In 2016, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina praised the integrity of the country’s electoral system, criticizing claims by Donald J. Trump that the vote had been “rigged.”
“Like most Americans, I have confidence in our democracy and our electoral system,” Mr. Graham said in a statement on Twitter. “If he loses, it won’t be because the system is ‘rigged’ but because he failed as a candidate.”
What a difference four years make.
Mr. Graham, who transformed during this time to become one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest allies, now appears determined to reverse the election result on behalf of the president. On Friday, he phoned Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state and fellow Republican, questioning the possibility of a slight tinkering with the state’s election result.
What if, Mr. Graham suggested during the call, according to Mr. Raffensperger, he had the power to reject all mail-in votes from counties with high rates of questionable signatures on ballots?
In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr. Raffensperger said he was stunned that Mr. Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to legally cast the ballots.
“It looked like he wanted to go down that road,” Raffensperger said of the appeal from Mr. Graham, the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr Graham appears determined to do everything he can to create a second term for Mr Trump, despite the clear victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. The senator has suggested this year’s vote represents the Republican Party’s last breath , unless something is done to reverse the current state of electoral operations – the same system he praised in 2016.
“If Republicans don’t challenge and change the US electoral system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” Graham said on Fox News on Sunday.
The phone call to Mr Raffensperger was part of a series of episodes in which Mr Graham, who won his own reelection bid this month, attempted to cast doubt on the outcome of the election presidential, demanding that Mr. Trump not concede the race to Mr. Biden despite the decisive victory of the Democrat in the electoral college – 306 to 232 electoral votes.
Lawyers said it was doubtful Mr. Graham’s actions, which were open to interpretation, could lead to criminal charges or were a violation of Senate ethics. Yet it seemed that Mr. Graham had crossed an ethical line.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, called Mr. Graham’s overtures to state officials “deeply shocking and undemocratic.”
“It was Senator Graham as a partisan supporter of President Trump trying to get votes for him, but using his position to do so,” Bookbinder said. “It seems both unusual and deeply inappropriate.”
A longtime advocate for state rights, Graham had made his voice heard in the Senate in a role historically delegated to states – administering elections.
In an appearance last week on Fox News, Graham claimed Nevada’s counting system failed to verify signatures because the software had been disabled, a charge that had been refuted.
In Clark County, for example, a signature verification machine processes about 30 percent of the mail-in ballots and the rest were hand-checked by election officials, according to Dan Kulin, a Clark County spokesperson. , the largest in the state.
The Nevada Supreme Court had also dismissed allegations by Republican lawyers who filed a variety of vague complaints that observers did not have sufficient access to view the counting process.
On Tuesday, Graham’s office said it had raised concerns about the counting of the votes in Georgia as well as Arizona and Nevada “as a US senator who is concerned about the integrity of the process. election at the national level, when it comes to postal voting. “
Mr. Graham said on Tuesday that in addition to calling Mr. Raffensperger, he also contacted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, also a Republican, to discuss election matters. Mr. Graham said he did not recall who he spoke to in Nevada.
The vote was close in all three states but ultimately came out in favor of Mr Biden. And in all three, Republicans, echoing Mr. Trump’s repeated false claims that the elections are “rigged,” have raised various questions about election operations, in some cases even before the results have arrived.
In Georgia, where Mr Biden now leads with around 13,000 votes, Mr Raffensperger’s office has ordered an unusual statewide recount of the more than 4.9 million votes cast after a demand from the Trump campaign . The final results of this recount are expected Wednesday.
Georgia has also emerged as a focal point of national politics, with two incumbent Republican senators facing the second round of elections in January which will decide control of the Senate.
For his part, Graham said that the allegations that he tried to interfere in the electoral process in Georgia were “ridiculous”.
“What I’m trying to find out is how to verify the signatures on the postal ballots in these states that are the center of attention?” he told CNN on Monday. “For example, when you are mailing a ballot, you must have a way to verify that the signature on the envelope matches the person who requested the ballot. It seems to me that Georgia has some protections that other states may not have, where you go to the portal to get your ballot. But I thought it was a good conversation. I’m surprised to hear him characterize it that way.
Gabriel Sterling, an assistant to Mr Raffensperger who participated in part of the appeal with Mr Graham, told CNN the conversation involved a discussion of the mail ballots and if ‘if there was a percentage of signatures that didn’t really match, is there a point we could get to – we could say someone went into a courtroom might say, ‘Well let’s throw all those ballots away. vote because we have no way of knowing because the ballots were separated.
Mr. Graham’s suggestion appeared to be based on the fact that in the continuous count it is impossible to double-check the signatures submitted with the mail ballots.
As part of the postal ballot procedure in Georgia, which is similar to that used in many other states, signatures on postal ballot envelopes are verified when received by election officials. Then the ballots and envelopes are separated to protect the privacy of the voter choice.
These envelopes are kept for two years, but there is no way to reconcile them with the ballots they contained.
An official in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office said that ballots that are rejected because the signatures do not match typically represent less than two-tenths of a percent of the total votes. By law, voters are contacted and informed of the problem so that they can take action to resolve it.