CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Three attorneys have filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, accusing the South Carolina Republican of pressuring a Georgia elections official to toss out legally cast absentee votes in the presidential race.
In a complaint filed Wednesday with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Claire Finkelstein, Richard Painter and Walter Shaub “urge the committee to investigate whether Senator Graham suggested that Secretary Raffensperger disenfranchise Georgia voters by not counting votes lawfully cast for the office of president.” They also “demand clarity as to whether Senator Graham has threatened anyone with a Senate investigation of the Georgia vote tally and or taken steps to initiate such an investigation.”
The complaint also requests that Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “be recused from any investigation or other Senate matter relating to alleged irregularities in the 2020 election” while any probe of his comments is ongoing.
The complaint stems from comments by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who said this week that Graham asked him whether he had the power to reject certain absentee ballots, a question Raffensperger interpreted as a suggestion to toss out legally cast votes. Raffensperger told The Washington Post he’s faced rising pressure from fellow Republicans who want to see Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow lead in the state reversed.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Georgia, where Biden leads President Donald Trump by 0.3 percentage points. There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, but state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. It is AP’s practice not to call a race that is – or is likely to become – subject to a recount.
Election officials have said a hand recount has turned up more than 5,000 votes in four counties that weren't previously counted but won't alter the overall outcome of the race, in which nearly 5 million votes were cast in the state. Officials have said the margin between Trump and Biden will be about 12,800 votes when those previously uncounted votes are accounted for.
When Georgia voters return an absentee ballot, they have to sign an oath on an outer envelope. County election office workers are required to ensure the signature matches the one on the absentee ballot application and the one in the voter registration system, Raffensperger has said.
“He asked if the absentee ballots could be matched back to the envelope,” Raffensperger told The Associated Press this week, of his conversation with Graham. “I thought that then Sen. Graham implied for us to audit the envelopes and throw out ballots of counties who had the highest frequency error rate of signatures, and I told him that’s something that we couldn’t do.”
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop called the attorneys “longtime vocal critics” of both Graham and Trump, adding, “Their complaint should be viewed in that light.” Painter has called Graham “Putin’s favorite senator,” while Finkelstein said this week Trump “will likely be indicted” after leaving office.
Schaub, the former head of the federal Office of Government Ethics, complained in 2017 about Graham’s tweets that he said improperly promoted Trump International Golf Club.
When asked about the conversation with Raffensperger, Graham said Monday that he was “trying to find out how the signature stuff worked” and that Raffensperger “did a good job of explaining to me how they verify signatures.”
Asked about Raffensperger’s interpretation that he was suggesting legally cast ballots should be thrown out, Graham said, “That’s ridiculous.”
Trump -- who has made unfounded claims of widespread voting irregularities and fraud — and his campaign have repeatedly taken to social media to criticize Raffensperger and the way the state’s hand tally was being conducted. Once the hand tally is complete and the results certified, the losing campaign can request a recount, which would be done using scanners that read and tally the votes.
County election officials were instructed to complete the count by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The deadline for the state to certify election results is Friday.
Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.