Lindsey Graham on the defensive over calls to state election officials

David Knowles
·Editor
·5-min read

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was on the defensive Tuesday over disclosures that he had contacted state election officials in states won by Joe Biden in an apparent effort to get them to disqualify some ballots.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Graham had called Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger late last week seeking to have legally cast absentee ballots disqualified, which could cut into Biden’s 13,300-vote lead over President Trump there.

Raffensperger said he turned Graham down. In an interview with Yahoo News, Raffensperger, who described himself as a “Republican through and through” and a Trump supporter, said Georgia’s election was honest and fair.

Hours after the Post story appeared, Graham denied that he had sought to pressure Raffensperger to intervene on behalf of Trump.

“I’m asking him to explain to me the system,” Graham told reporters. “If you send a mail-in ballot to a county, a single person verifies the signature against what’s in the database. They don’t mail out ballots. You got to actually request one. So they expanded mail-in voting, and how you verify the signature, to me, is the big issue of mail-in voting.”

“If you’re going to have mail-in voting, you got to verify the person who signed the envelope is also the person,” Graham added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

But in a second interview with the Wall Street Journal, Raffensperger said Graham had called his office twice on Friday. In the second call, Graham suggested the idea of invalidating all absentee ballots from counties with higher signature errors, the Journal reported.

Also on the call was Gabriel Sterling, the official who manages Georgia's voting system. On Tuesday, he confirmed that Graham suggested “entire counties need to be redone” in the state but was told that idea was a nonstarter.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Graham told reporters that he was not just interested in weeding out potential mail-in voting irregularities in Georgia, noting that he had also spoken to the secretaries of state in Nevada and Arizona. Notably, those states were also both won by Biden by a slim margin.

But within moments of that assertion, Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said Graham had not contacted her.

Likewise, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, denied on Tuesday that Graham had contacted her. “I have not spoken with Senator Lindsey Graham or any other members of Congress,” Cegavske said.

Pressed by reporters to explain the discrepancy, Graham clarified his remarks.

“I talked to [Arizona] Gov. [Doug] Ducey, and I can’t remember who I talked to in Nevada,” Graham said. “But what I’m trying to find out is, how do you verify mail-in ballots? So the question for me is, if we’re going to use more mail-in balloting, we need to have signature verification that’s bipartisan."

For months, Trump has attacked the integrity of mail-in voting, which saw a marked spike this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. In September, Trump hinted that he might not accept the results of the election if mail-in ballots contributed to his defeat.

“You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots,” Trump said at a news conference, “and the ballots are a disaster.”

In response to that comment, Graham said in an interview with “Fox & Friends,” “If Republicans lose, we will accept the result.”

As the election approached, it became clear that Democrats were requesting far more mail-in ballots than Republicans. That may have been a result of how the two parties differed in portraying the risks posed by COVID-19. Republicans, many of whom downplayed the risks of the pandemic, voted in person in greater numbers than Democrats.

Graham, who has donated $500,000 to Trump’s legal efforts to try to overturn the results of the election, sounded the alarm about mail-in voting, calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“If we don’t do something about voting by mail, we are going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country,” Graham said in a Nov. 9 interview with Fox News.

Raffensperger, whose office released a review of voting machines in Georgia on Tuesday that found no evidence of foul play, seems less concerned about which party wins elections in the state than about whether they are conducted fairly.

“As a Republican, I wish the results would go another way, but I think that at the end of the day, what you’re going to see is this audit is going to verify what the machines counted, and then we’ll certify,” he told CBS News on Tuesday.

Raffensperger also noted that, ironically, Trump’s own rhetoric casting doubt on mail-in voting may have cost him victory in Georgia.

Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election calendar.
Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election calendar.

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