Georgia House Speaker Calls for Signature Verification of Absentee Ballots

December 1, 2020 Updated: December 1, 2020

Georgia state House Speaker David Ralston (R) on Monday called on top elections officials to carry out a signature re-verification of absentee ballots after President Donald Trump said the process would be a “goldmine” of fraud and sway the election in his favor.

David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, wrote in a tweet that Ralston had joined the president in calling for such a re-verification, a process that would require matching signatures on ballots to signatures on the envelopes that they came in, or compare signatures on envelopes to signatures on other voter registration records.

“I am reiterating my call for @GaSecofState to request the signature verification of absentee ballots. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and we must use all available tools to protect the integrity of the vote,” Ralston said, referring to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, according to Shafer’s statement.

When absentee ballots are received by Georgia election officials, the signature on the envelope is checked against the signature on the ballot and against the signature on the voter’s registration application. After the signatures are matched, ballots and envelopes are separated, with no personally identifiable information remaining attributed to ballots themselves, in line with Georgia’s ballot secrecy requirements, meant to prevent a voter’s choice from being tied back to their identity.

But absentee ballot rejection rates in Georgia have been unusually low in this election, with an affidavit attached to a recent lawsuit noting a 0.15 percent rejection rate in the 2020 general election, compared to 0.28 percent in the 2016 general election, 0.20 percent in 2018 general election, and 0.28 percent in the 2020 primary.

This anomaly has prompted Trump and members of his legal team to allege fraud and demand a signature re-verification, with the president saying in a Nov. 19 tweet: “must have signature check on envelopes now. Very easy to do. Dems fighting because they got caught. Far more votes than needed for flip.”

Trump, in a tweet Monday, urged Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to use emergency powers to “overrule his obstinate Secretary of State” and carry out the signature re-verification, a process Raffensperger has resisted on grounds that this might expose individual voters’ choices.  The recent hand-counted audit in Georgia did not include signature re-verification.

In a follow-up tweet, Trump also called for officials to “quickly check the number of envelopes versus the number of ballots. You may just find that there are many more ballots than there are envelopes. So simple, and so easy to do.”

After Atlanta attorney Lin Wood filed a lawsuit against Raffensperger on Nov. 13, which sought to block certification of the vote in Georgia until all ballot envelopes could be inspected, the Secretary of State pushed back against the signature re-verification request, arguing, “the secrecy of the vote is sacred.”

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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference in Atlanta, Ga., on Nov. 11, 2020. (Brynn Anderson/AP Photo)

Besides the issue of voter confidentiality, the process of re-verifying signatures poses logistical problems, as the envelopes have been separated and it may not be possible to match them back to ballots.

After Shafer posted Ralston’s remarks supporting the call for re-verifying signatures, a commenter wrote: “Too bad that request is physically impossible to fulfill! When a ballot is separated from its envelope there is no way to bring them back together! You know this, but you’re getting more mileage out of spreading disinformation then [sic] telling the truth to Georgia voters.”

Shafer responded by saying that it “does not matter if it has been separated from the envelope” as the re-verification process could involve matching “the name and signature on the envelope to the name and signature on the absentee ballot application and original voter registration.”

While the process Shafer describes would not match the signatures on envelopes to specific ballots and so could not change the vote tallies of individual candidates, it may provide a good indication of the overall number of potentially fraudulent ballots, and so be grounds for other remedial moves, such as decertification.

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