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Georgia Senators Call For Secretary Of State's Resignation Over Election 'Failures'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A rift over the results of the election has burst wide open in the state of Georgia - between Republicans. Two GOP candidates running in separate runoffs in January are trashing the handling of last week's election by Republican officials. Incumbent senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue claim, with no evidence, a faulty process and have demanded the resignation of the Republican secretary of state. The stakes couldn't be higher. Those elections in January will decide the balance of the U.S. Senate. Joining us now to sort all this is Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Welcome.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So Perdue and Loeffler actually issued a statement calling for the secretary of state to step down. In it, they claim that there were too many failures in Georgia elections. What are they talking about?

FOWLER: Well, Audie, Georgia's June primary did have its fair share of problems like long lines in majority-Black neighborhoods and problems with a new voting system. But the November election was night-and-day difference. About 80% of Georgians voted before Election Day this time. A record turnout of almost 5 million people was there, and the average in-person wait time on Election Day was about 2 minutes.

That being said, several top Republicans in Georgia have tried to assert, without evidence, this aura of wrongdoing over this election. And believing these assertions would require a suspension of disbelief. Georgia is a Republican trifecta, meaning the GOP controls to the governor's mansion and both chambers of the state legislature. Republicans are the ones that picked this new $104 million voting system. And Republicans, until this year, were the ones that used absentee mail-in ballots the most.

CORNISH: The secretary of state said he's not stepping down. Did he have any other response to their claims?

FOWLER: So Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger hit back pretty hard in his own statement, saying, quote, "The voters of Georgia hired me, and the voters will be the one to fire me."

In a word, he told these two senators to stay in their own lanes and worry about winning their runoffs. He also called allegations that his office wasn't being transparent with this election process laughable. Earlier Monday, before all of this brouhaha over election integrity bubbled over, Gabriel Sterling with the secretary of state's office spent about half an hour debunking misinformation, answering questions about how many ballots were left to count and reiterating there is no evidence of widespread fraud.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GABRIEL STERLING: Let me be perfectly clear on another point - we are going to find that people did illegally vote. That's going to happen. There are going to be double voters. There are going to be people who shouldn't - did not have the qualifications of a registered voter to vote in this state. That will be found.

FOWLER: Now, he did say these isolated incidents are likely the result of human error and would be swiftly addressed and ultimately wouldn't change the outcome of the presidential election.

CORNISH: I also want to talk about the race itself because both Perdue and Loeffler are facing tight runoffs in January that could decide control of the U.S. Senate. They'll need to make sure they turn out the party's base to win. Is that what this is about - right? - keeping the Trump base interested in these races?

FOWLER: This is definitely a concerted effort to signal to the Republican base in Georgia that they are going to fight for every legal vote to be counted, as they say, to make sure that they're the ones that will defend the president and Republican Party ideals if they get reelected to the Senate.

CORNISH: Stephen, Georgia's having a moment (laughter). The state looks like it's about to flip blue, that it could go for Joe Biden. It could be the same thing in the Senate. How does all this feel right now back there?

FOWLER: Well, Audie, this is a monumental moment to be living in Georgia. The last time Georgia voted for a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1992. I wasn't born yet, and so this is history in the making to watch and to see all eyes on Georgia. You've got all of this money pouring in from different sources trying to influence the election, and it just means that the stakes are that much more higher for people on both sides of the aisle to see how this race turns out.

CORNISH: That's Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Thanks.

FOWLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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