American President Donald Trump has blown up about the election recount in Georgia, saying the lack of signature verification makes the process "meaningless".
The Trump campaign and Georgia Republicans have clashed with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp – both Republicans – for allegedly mishandling the election process.
"The consent decree signed by the Georgia Secretary of State, with the approval of Governor @BrianKempGA, at the urging of @staceyabrams, makes it impossible to check and match signatures on ballots and envelopes, etc.," the President tweeted on Saturday.
"They knew they were going to cheat. Must expose real signatures!"
He continued the tirade on Monday.
"The fake recount going on in Georgia means nothing because they are not allowing signatures to be looked at and verified. Break the unconstitutional consent decree!" he wrote.
Trump later added, "Georgia won't let us look at the all-important signature match. Without that the recount is MEANINGLESS. Open up unconstitutional consent decree, NOW! @BrianKempGA"
It came as Raffensperger unloaded on his own party in an extraordinary interview with The Washington Post.
He claimed he had come under increasing pressure from fellow Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham, to question the validity of legally cast ballots.
Raffensperger told the newspaper the atmosphere had grown so contentious he and his wife had received death threats, including a text message that read, "You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it."
The "consent decree" Trump keeps referring to was a legal settlement signed on March 6, ending a lawsuit brought by the Democratic Party after Abrams lost the governor's race to Kemp in 2018 – and refused to concede, claiming the election was stolen from her.
Democrats had argued that minorities were disproportionately affected when they had their absentee ballots rejected for mismatching signatures.
The agreement set out new processes for local elections officials to follow, among other things requiring them to – rather than reject the ballot outright – notify the voter in a timely fashion about problems with the signature so it can be "cured".
Prominent Republican lawyer L. Lin Wood resurfaced the issue in a federal lawsuit filed on Friday, questioning whether the Secretary of State had the authority to implement the new signature verification process.
Raffensperger flatly denied Trump's claim that the consent decree made it impossible to match signatures, saying it was both possible and required by the state, The Associated Press noted in its fact check.
"There is nothing in the consent decree that prevents Georgia election clerks from scrutinising signatures," the AP said.
"The legal settlement signed in March addresses accusations about a lack of statewide standards for judging signatures on absentee ballot envelopes."
Far-right news site Breitbart's senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak, however, pointed out that the issue was more nuanced.
He noted that the consent decree made it "much harder to reject a ballot with a signature that does not match the voter file".
Under the consent decree, if an election worker believes a signature does not match, they must "seek review" from two other officials, and at least two out of the three must agree.
All three officials must then write their names on the face of the absentee ballot envelope and state the reason for rejection.
"This drastically reduces the chance of rejection," Pollak said.
"The specific Trump tweet that the @AP fact-checked was one claiming Georgia made it 'impossible' to verify signatures. It's not impossible, theoretically, but highly impractical. The decree makes checking signatures *practically* impossible. Trump is closer to the truth than the so-called fact-checkers."
Unsurprisingly, Trump's tweets on Monday further confused the issue.
While he continued to rail against the consent decree, he appeared to be conflating it with state Republicans' complaints about observer limits for the recount process.
Under the rules announced by Raffensperger's office last week, the state parties were allowed one reviewer per every 10 audit teams.
"That makes it impossible for hand count decisions to be reviewed in real time," Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer wrote in a letter to Raffensperger on Thursday. "One designated monitor cannot observe 10 tables at once."
Shafer said that during the initial count, Republican poll watchers were "aggressively" prevented from "effectively observing the tabulating process" in some areas.
"We are concerned that your directive today has replicated and aggravated these problems," he said.
Analysis of publicly available data showed the proportion of rejected absentee ballots in Georgia had "plummeted" from 3.5 per cent in 2018 to 0.3 per cent in 2020, Shafer added.
"This raises serious concerns as to whether counties properly conducted signature verification and/or other scrutiny of absentee ballots," he said.
"In fact, it presents the issue of whether some counties conducted any scrutiny at all."
The Trump campaign and Republicans in other states have made similar observations about low mail-in ballot rejection rates, which typically hover at around 2-3 per cent.
Georgia, which Joe Biden narrowly won as more mail-in votes were counted after election day, last week announced an "audit, a recount and a recanvass all at once" due to the razor-thin margin of less than 0.3 per cent.
All 159 of Georgia's counties – it has the second highest number of counties of any state except Texas – were ordered to complete their recounts in time for the certification deadline this Friday, November 20.
At the time the recount was announced, 97 counties had submitted final results, with Biden ahead of Trump by 14,111 votes out of just under 4.93 million in the state.
Over the weekend, poll workers in Floyd County discovered more than 2500 votes that were missed due to a faulty scanner, the Rome News-Tribune reported.
The discovery added 1643 votes for Trump, 865 for Biden and 16 for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen – a net gain of 778 for the President.