I-TEAM: Threats against election officials cloud Senate runoffs

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 6:18 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - All eyes are on Georgia as voters decide on a pair of senators and possibly control of the entire U.S. Senate.

It’s Republican Sen. David Perdue versus Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

But our I-Team has uncovered threats against local election officials as we ramped up to the runoff.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.  Will President-elect Joe Biden govern with a Democratic House and Senate or will Republicans maintain control and provide a split-government?

All eyes are on the Peach State, so does Richmond County Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey feel the pressure?

“Certainly,  we are getting a lot of attention right now,” Bailey said. “At minimum, I spend a lot more time talking to people than I normally do.”

“I can hear it when I talk to voters on the phone suspicion and doubt.”

That cynicism is something Bailey says she’s never heard before in nearly 30 years overseeing elections in Augusta-Richmond County. She’s also been hearing something else for the very first time -- threats.

Bailey couldn’t tell us the specifics on the threats as they are under investigation, but she could tell us this:

“What we have seen are several phone calls and menacing emails sent to our office with overt and sometimes subtle threats, but we can’t let those things distract us,” Bailey said. “We button them up and send them to the sheriff’s office.”

Threats aren’t just a problem at home but statewide as well, forcing a top election official from the Secretary of State’s office to plead for calm during the recount.

“It’s all gone too far,” said Gabriel Sterling, voting system manager for Georgia. “All of it.”

“Someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to get shot. Someone is going to get killed.”

The hand recount found only a seven-vote difference out of more than 87,000 ballots in Richmond County.

“Literally they took every single ballot and one person would grab it and say this is a vote for President Trump and the other person would say confirmed vote for Trump and then they would put in a stack and then next one this is a vote for Biden -- confirmed Biden -- and put it in a stack,” Bailey said.

Poll workers then ran the ballots back through the machines a second times as part of the checks and balances process.

“There should be no doubts about whether the software is flipping votes or we are manipulating votes or if there is in weirdness going on because I think those two recounts prove everything is working as it should be,” Bailey said.

Jordan Johnson is with the Richmond County Democratic Party and commissioner-elect. He says there is another form of checks and balances: local poll watchers.

“They make sure elections are run safely,” Johnson said. “They make sure elections are run without any of the stuff folks are claiming is happening but is not really happening.”

We checked and found during the general election there were 66 poll watchers fanned out at Augusta voting precincts: 25 were from the GOP and 41 were from the Democratic Party. We found the opposite in Columbia County. The GOP had 30 poll watchers, and the Democrats had seven.

We asked Sherry Barnes, the chairman of the Richmond County Republican Party, if they saw anything suspicious.

“Well, they did not,” Barnes said.

Both parties hoping this oversight provides answers when it comes to election integrity as the nation’s eyes return to Georgia where we decide the balance of power in Washington.

Georgia’s secretary of state sent 8,000 warning letters to people who requested absentee ballots for the runoff but had also filed a change of address showing they no longer lived in the state. The secretary of state has also asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help investigate allegations of voter fraud, which is a felony.

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