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Election challenges center on Electoral College tally

Election challenges center on Electoral College tally
Campaign 2020
Donald Trump
Joe Biden
After pressuring Georgia officials over the weekend, Donald Trump suggests the vice president delay certification
Harvest Prude
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump is down to the wire in his attempt to contest the presidential election results: Congress will vote Wednesday on whether to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Meanwhile, the Trump legal team’s efforts have stalled in court.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Georgia dealt another blow against a lawsuit Trump’s team filed on New Year’s Eve asking to “de-certify” the state’s results and allow the state Legislature, which has a Republican majority, to decide its winner. According to the official tally, Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes out of a total of around 5 million. 

U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen in Atlanta sided with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, both GOP officials who argued that decertifying the results would “disenfranchise millions of Georgia voters.”

Attention now shifts to Congress’ joint session Wednesday, which seems likely to be more an exercise in political theater than a serious challenge to Biden’s victory.

Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session, where U.S. representatives and senators will get a chance to object to a specific state’s Electoral College results.

Any objection must have the support of both a senator and a representative. More than 100 House GOP lawmakers are expected to object to the results in key states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

If an objection gets support, lawmakers will return to their separate chambers for up to two hours of debate, then each chamber will vote separately. To succeed—and for Congress to deny a state’s Electoral College certification—objections need a simple majority vote in each chamber. 

It’s highly unlikely a challenge will succeed in either chamber, especially in the Democratic-controlled House. Several Republicans have also said they won’t back their colleagues’ efforts in the Senate.

The process may drag on for hours between objections, debates, votes, disinfecting of the chambers under COVID-19 protocols, and regathering.

Meanwhile, some are calling for Pence to upend the process in another way: by refusing to recognize the votes of electors in close states. Decertifying results for those states doesn’t give Trump victory. If neither candidate were to meet the 270-vote threshold to secure the Electoral College, the House of Representatives would decide the winner. 

The loudest voice calling for this strategy is the president himself. “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. 

Pence has said little about the upcoming session. But at a Georgia rally Monday, he said, “I know we’ve all got our doubts about the last election … I want to assure you, I share the concerns of the millions of Americans about voting irregularity. I promise you, come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress, we’ll hear the objections, we’ll hear the evidence."

If for some reason Pence is unable or unwilling to preside over the session, then the role will fall to Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is president pro tempore of the Senate.

On Monday, Trump took the stage for a rally for GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, facing run-offs in Georgia that will decide which party controls the Senate. Trump’s message immediately veered toward the presidential contest. 

“Hello, Georgia. By the way, there is no way we lost Georgia,” the president said, calling it a “rigged election.”

He said as much on a controversial phone call on Saturday to Raffensberger. On the call—audio of which leaked the next day—Trump, Raffensberger, and others sparred for about an hour. Trump and his team made specific claims to back up his central charge that he “won very substantially in Georgia.” Winning Georgia still wouldn’t give Trump 270 Electoral College votes.

Trump and his attorneys listed several claims about Georgia election results, many of which Georgia officials have disputed. 

Here are some of the claims and Georgia officials’ responses.

Claim: There were “anywhere from 250 to 300,000 ballots” that dropped mysteriously. Trump said the remedy to that would be a signature check in Fulton County. “You’ll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures,” he promised.

Response: Ryan Germany, general counsel for the Georgia secretary of state, who was also on the call, said Georgia officials found no evidence of improper signature verification in Fulton County. He noted that officials looked into Cobb County instead.

Gabriel Sterling, voting systems manager for the Georgia secretary of state’s office, also addressed the claim in a Monday press conference. The Cobb County investigation was spurred by a claim in one of the president’s legal filings based on June primary election information. The investigation found that only two of 15,118 absentee ballot envelopes had potential problems. 

Claim: Around “4,502 people who weren’t on the voter registration list” voted, Trump said.

Response: “Let’s just be clear about this. You can’t do it,” Sterling said. If a person showed up to vote without registering, he said, that person couldn’t receive a ballot. He also added that no one would have been able to register to vote after missing the voter registration cutoff, which Trump has claimed happened.

Claim: 904 people voted with registration tied to a P.O. box, which is illegal. 

Response: Sterling said the state is investigating. So far, all names have tied back to mailboxes in multifamily buildings, such as an apartment: “We haven’t seen anyone actually registered to vote at a USPS P.O. box.”

Claim: 4,925 people from out of state voted in the election.

Response: Germany said officials investigated and found nothing fraudulent. “We’ve been going through each of those as well. Everyone we’ve been through are people that lived in Georgia, moved to a different state, but then moved back to Georgia legitimately.” He added: “They moved back in years ago. This was not like something just before the election.”

In the Monday press conference, Sterling added that there have been incidents of “double voters which we are investigating, but again, we’re talking handfuls, not tens of thousands.”

Claim: “Dead people voted, and I think the number is close to 5,000 people,” Trump said, adding that his team had checked obituaries to get that number.

Response: On the Saturday call, Raffensperger said Georgia officials had only found “two people that were dead that voted.”

Claim: Trump said election workers had scanned about 18,000 ballots multiple times at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. “Why did they put the votes in three times?” he asked.

Response: Raffensberger said an audit “proved conclusively that they were not scanned three times.”

On Monday, Sterling said that when a machine detects a problem with a ballot, it will stop the count. “But before that, four or five [ballots may] get through.” Some scans must be deleted and reentered “so they scan properly. That is the normal process that is done,” Sterling said.

Trump and attorneys on the Saturday call claimed ballots had been shredded or destroyed and voting machine equipment had been moved or replaced. Germany denied those claims.

Sterling said election workers shred security envelopes from absentee ballots that contain “no evidentiary value: no signature on it, no way to match it back.” But workers kept signature and oath envelopes and ballots themselves.

Georgia is also investigating 74 potential cases of felons voting, according to Sterling. Those often turn out to be people who have already completed sentences or people sharing the same name and birthday.

Georgia officials have found four cases of people requesting ballots while under the age of 18, and all of them turned 18 by Election Day. “That means that is a legally cast ballot,” Sterling said.