Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that he will not resign after Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue called on him to, claiming that he has "failed to deliver honest and transparent elections."
"I know emotions are running high. Politics are involved in everything right now. If I was Senator Perdue, I'd be irritated I was in a runoff. And both Senators and I are all unhappy with the potential outcome for our President," Raffensperger, the state's top elections official, said in a statement. "But I am the duly elected Secretary of State. One of my duties involves helping to run elections for all Georgia voters. I have taken that oath, and I will execute that duty and follow Georgia law."
The secretary's statement came about an hour after Loeffler and Perdue released a joint statement calling on Raffensperger, a Republican, to step down.
"We believe when there are failures, they need to be called out -- even when it's in your own party. ... While blame certainly lies elsewhere as well, the buck ultimately stops with the Secretary of State. The mismanagement and lack of transparency from the Secretary of State is unacceptable," the senators' statement read. "Honest elections are paramount to the foundation of our democracy. The Secretary of State has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately."
The stunning statement attacking a member of the senators' own party comes as counties move to certify their election results and Joe Biden's lead increases in The Peach State.
So far, 69 of the state's 159 counties have certified their results. Friday is the deadline for counties to do this.
Biden is now leading by about 11,000 votes, which is well within the margin needed for a candidate to request a recount. In order for a candidate to request a recount, the margin between two candidates must be less than 0.5% of all votes cast in the race, which would be about 24,900 votes, based on the votes currently reported. A recount cannot be formally requested until the election results are certified and there are no automatic recounts under Georgia state law.
The Trump campaign has said it will request a recount, designating Rep. Doug Collins to lead the effort. Collins, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, lost his bid to became one of Georgia's senators, failing to advance to the Jan. 5 runoff election. Both Loeffler and Perdue will be on the ballot that day, vying to hold onto their seats and fending off challenges from Democrats, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.
Both senators closely aligned themselves with Trump during their campaigns, with Loeffler often touting her record of voting 100% in line with the president.
Charles Bullock, a professor at the University of Georgia and an expert in Southern politics, said that the move from Loeffler and Perdue shows with whom their loyalty lies.
"Well, clearly they decided to kiss Trump's ring," Bullock said. "They've chosen to be loyal to Trump as opposed to ... you know, their fellow partisan. Raffensperger -- he's a Republican. It's not like this was a Democratic operation."
Raffensperger dismissed Loeffler and Perdue's claim of lack of transparency as "laughable."
"We were literally putting releases of results up at a minimum hourly. I and my office have been holding daily or twice-daily briefings for the press to walk them through all the numbers. So that particular charge is laughable," he said.
The secretary acknowledged that there are likely instances of illegal voting in Georgia, but said, even so, it's unlikely to change the outcome of the race.
"Was there illegal voting? I am sure there was. And my office is investigating all of it. Does it rise to the numbers or margin necessary to change the outcome to where President Trump is given Georgia's electoral votes? That is unlikely," his statement said.
In a news conference earlier Monday, Gabriel Sterling, the statewide voting systems implementation manager in Raffensperger's office, said "every election ... is imperfect," and that while all instances of alleged illegal voting will be taken seriously, it's a "minor part of this thing."
Sterling was confident that the ballots were "counted properly and correctly," which he said both the statewide risk-limiting audit will prove, as will a recount, if Trump requests one, but human error is a factor here.
"The electronic part of this thing -- the software the scanners -- all that stuff worked exactly well. The only point where we have some issues occasionally is where human beings have to interact with it," Sterling said.
If the recount is ultimately requested and conducted, Sterling said that the results will show differences, but he was adamant that this is normal and not evidence something nefarious happened.
"Let me caution everybody: (The results are) going to be a little bit different. It always is in every recount in the history of mankind -- it's always a little bit different," Sterling said. "People (and) machines look at things slightly differently. ... Fundamentally, it will not be off, (but) it's always going to be a little bit different. That is not suspicious. That is normal."
During the press conference, Sterling also threw cold water on the notion that Georgia "suddenly" flipped from red to blue.
"Anybody who has been here is aware of the fact that none of this was sudden," he said, noting how close the 2018 gubernatorial race was and that Democrats have been winning in local races in the Atlanta suburbs. "None of this is really overly surprising to the pundits who track what's going on in Georgia, and I don't think you can say it's a massive flip."
Sterling said their initial assessment of the results shows a lot of split-ticket voting, meaning people didn't vote for Trump, but did vote for Perdue, Loeffler or Collins.
"All this stuff kind of tracks with the political environment we've seen," he added.
In his statement, Raffensperger also offered some advice to the senators, suggesting they work to do something at the federal level regarding election administration and that they focus on winning their runoff elections.
"Federal law, not state law, is what makes it so difficult to keep clean voter rolls. Federal law, not state law, is what allows people to register to vote before a runoff even if they weren't registered for the general election," the secretary said. "Now that Senators Perdue and Loeffler are concerned about elections, hopefully they can fix these federal laws."
The secretary continued, "My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes, and no illegal votes, are counted properly and accurately. As Secretary of State, that is my duty, and I will continue to do my duty. As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that."
The state will conduct a risk-limiting audit for the general election, but the specific race that will be audited has not yet been announced. Conducting the audit was planned prior to the election.