In Georgia, ‘Concerted’ GOP Pushback Blocks Trump Attempts to Overturn Election

December 8, 2020by Greg Bluestein, James Salzer and Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)
Fulton County's members of a recount team work on hand recount and audit of ballots during Fulton County's Risk Limiting Audit process at Georgia World Congress Center on Saturday, November 14, 2020. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s election results have met a wall of opposition from an unlikely source: Republican state officials and GOP-appointed judges who have loudly rejected his calls to undo Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state.

As two more of the president’s legal challenges were quashed in court on Monday, Trump’s pleas to top state officials to interfere in the election have been soundly rejected by Republican politicians he once endorsed.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recertified Biden’s win after a third tally, adding that the president’s “debunked claims of stolen elections is hurting our state.” One of his top aides, Gabriel Sterling, lamented he had to embark on a “disinformation Monday” campaign to correct pro-Trump falsehoods.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan became one of the first senior Republican elected officials to acknowledge Biden’s victory. And state GOP leaders united to bury the idea of a special session that would seek to switch Georgia’s 16 electors from Biden to Trump.

“Simply put, this is not an option under state or federal law,” Gov. Brian Kemp pointedly told lawmakers in Athens. “The statute is clear. The Legislature can only direct an alternative method for choosing presidential electors if the election was not able to be held on the date set by federal law.”

Hours later, Kemp’s office announced he had recertified Georgia’s 16 Democratic electors, a final formal step required by law.

The defiant stands against Trump’s push to dismiss Biden’s roughly 12,000-vote lead has deepened internal Republican feuding as the GOP tries to unite behind U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of Jan. 5 runoff races to determine control of the Senate.

They’ve also drawn fury from Trump, whose defeat made him the first Republican to lose Georgia since 1992. He’s repeatedly attacked Kemp, Duncan and Raffensperger — and encouraged U.S. Rep. Doug Collins to challenge the governor in 2022. Other Trump loyalists are already jockeying for position in other races.

“What’s wrong with this guy?” Trump tweeted at Kemp on Monday, one of many broadsides aimed at his former ally. “What is he hiding?”

And four Republican state senators — Brandon Beach, Greg Dolezal, Burt Jones and William Ligon — drafted a petition seeking a special session claiming “systemic” election failures. It seeks to allow the Republican-controlled Legislature to “take back the power to appoint electors.”

Amanda Carpenter, a veteran Republican strategist and Trump critic, said Georgia is the home of the “most significant GOP pushback of the Trump era.”

“This is a concerted effort by elected Republican officials to refute Trump — and something we haven’t seen before,” Carpenter said.

The governor and other Republican leaders first ruled out a special session to help Trump undo Biden’s victory on Nov. 10, and Kemp rejected the president’s extraordinary personal plea to intervene in the election results on Saturday.

State elections officials have said there is no widespread evidence of fraud, and Georgia courts have thrown out several complaints seeking to block the certification of the vote. But Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of a “rigged” election have seeped deeply into the Georgia GOP and sparked a bitter internal feud.

In the 1960s, the General Assembly decided that Georgia’s presidential electors would be determined by the winner of the state’s popular vote. Under Georgia law, the Legislature can only outline a new method of choosing electors if the timing of the vote was shifted from the date set in federal law.

Kemp and Duncan said any attempt to retroactively change that process for the Nov. 3 election “would be unconstitutional and immediately enjoined by the courts, resulting in a long legal dispute and no short-term resolution.”

House Speaker David Ralston, R- Blue Ridge, said in an interview that lawmakers should be looking forward — examining any changes that might make future elections more secure rather than litigating Trump’s defeat.

“I understand that people are very suspicious of this election process we have been through,” Ralston said.

“I would remind people if we overturn this one, there could be one overturned on us someday,” he said. “We just have to be very careful about how we act out our frustrations and concerns and understand that these things can happen again someday.”

Lawmakers don’t necessarily need the governor to summon them back to Atlanta. They could call a special session on their own, but only if 60% of members in each chamber agree to it in writing. That won’t happen, given that Democrats control more than 40% of the state House.

The pressure from Trump on state GOP leaders has been unrelenting. At the president’s rally Saturday in Valdosta, a crowd of thousands booed Kemp as Trump railed against him. Then the president singled out the four senators circulating the petition by name for adulation.

And after Duncan took to CNN on Sunday to acknowledge that ” Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as the 46th president” next month, Trump dismissed him as a Kemp “puppet” for refusing to reverse his election defeat.

The president’s other favorite target has been Raffensperger, the top state elections official, who on Monday brought to a close an arduous process that included a hand audit of every ballot after a third tally.

The final results show Biden’s margin of victory was 11,784 votes out of some 5 million ballots cast. In the recount, Biden’s margin shrank by 886 votes from the initial count.

“We have now counted legally cast ballots three times,” he said, “and the results remain unchanged.”

Kemp and Duncan, meanwhile, offered an alternative for those pushing unsupported allegations that the election was rigged.

“The judicial system remains the only viable — and quickest — option in disputing the results of the Nov. 3 election in Georgia,” they said.

But the courts provided no salve for Republicans seeking recourse. Judges threw out three lawsuits Monday challenging the election.

A Fulton County judge dismissed a complaint that claimed tens of thousands of ballots were either not counted or illegally cast.

A separate lawsuit announced last week by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was rejected because the attorneys didn’t pay the proper filing fee or fill out paperwork correctly. The lawsuit was refiled late Monday after those issues were apparently resolved.

Perhaps the most significant of the legal defeats involved a conspiracy-laden complaint brought by former Trump attorney Sidney Powell that sought to decertify the state’s election. U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten said doing so would have amounted to “judicial activism.”

“They want this court to substitute its judgment for the 2.5 million voters who voted for Biden,” said Batten, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. “This, I’m unwilling to do.”

___

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writers David Wickert and Patricia Murphy contributed to this article.

___

(c)2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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