Tuesday March 2nd, 2021 6:04PM

Georgia to audit one county's signatures on ballot envelopes

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's secretary of state on Monday announced an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes in one county, but the outcome of the presidential race in the state will not change as a result of the audit.

“Now that the signature matching has been attacked again and again with no evidence, I feel we need to take steps to restore confidence in our elections," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a news conference as he announced the audit that will focus on Cobb County in suburban Atlanta.

Also Monday, Georgia's 16 presidential electors formally cast their ballots for Joe Biden as the electoral college confirmed the Democrat's victory.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is to help with the audit, which is expected to be completed in two weeks, Raffensperger said. He added that his office is working with a university on a third-party signature match statewide audit study, a step he said is supported by the governor and state House speaker.

“The Trump campaign claimed that Cobb County did not properly conduct signature match in June,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “After the countywide audit, we will look at the entire state. We will look at the entire election to make sure signature match was executed properly.”

President Donald Trump and his allies have made repeated baseless claims of widespread election fraud and, among other things, have demanded an audit of the signature matches. The president has harshly criticized Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both fellow Republicans.

“I am glad Secretary Raffensperger has finally taken this necessary step to begin restoring confidence in our state’s election processes," Kemp said in an emailed statement after Raffensperger's announcement. "I have called for a signature audit repeatedly since the November 3rd election. As Georgians head back to the polls for the January 5th runoffs, it is absolutely vital for every vote cast to be legal and for only legal votes to be counted.”

The president has also asserted incorrectly that an agreement entered into by Raffensperger earlier this year to settle a lawsuit brought by Democrats prevents election officials from verifying signatures on absentee ballot envelopes.

Georgians can request absentee ballots either through an online portal that Raffensperger established in September or by submitting an application. For online requests, they provide their driver's license number and date of birth to verify their identity. If they use an application, they must sign it for verification.

When an application is received, county election workers compare the signature on the application to the voter's signature on file, and if it is consistent, a ballot is mailed, Raffensperger has said.

Before submitting an absentee ballot, a voter must sign an oath on an outer envelope. When county election officials receive an absentee ballot, they must compare the signature to the absentee ballot application if one exists and to the signature on file. The signatures must be consistent but don't have to match exactly, Raffensperger has said.

If the signature doesn't match, the voter is notified and can take other steps to verify identity. If the signature does match, the ballot is separated from the envelope to protect the right to ballot secrecy guaranteed by Georgia law.

Raffensperger said during the news conference at the state Capitol that his office received a report that Cobb County “may not have conducted a proper signature match in June," and that is why he decided to call for an audit. A statistically significant subset of signed absentee ballot envelopes will be audited, his office said.

Cobb County elections director Janine Eveler said in a statement that her office would help with the audit but is awaiting a court order.

“I’m confident any audit would find our office followed procedures and only counted ballots that were processed correctly,” Eveler said. “Even though our resources are already stretched thin by advance voting and preparations for the January 5 runoff, we will help this process move as expeditiously as possible.”

Chris Harvey, elections director for the secretary of state's office, also expressed confidence in Cobb County, saying it is well known as having one of the best election offices in the state.

“Conducting this audit does not in any way suggest that Cobb County was not properly following election procedures or properly conducting signature matching,” Harvey said in a news release.

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