Georgia finishes first phase of signature match audit; White House shows up with questions

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — As state investigators moved into the final stages of an unprecedented signature match audit of the election, the White House made an appearance on the investigation site.

Mark Meadows, President Trump’s Chief of Staff, arrived at the Marietta site Tuesday afternoon, where the audit is focused on the county’s November absentee ballot envelopes. During the unannounced visit, Meadows only stayed for roughly 20 minutes, and did not speak to Channel 2 Action News nor the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The outlets were the only two onsite to speak with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about the process.

“And fun fact: technically the chiefs of staff, me and Mark Meadows are not allowed in the [investigation] room,” said Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State, who fielded Meadows’ questions near the doorway of the investigation room.

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“He just asked basic process questions,” Fuchs told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr. “Wanting to know what we were verifying, were we checking signatures from multiple different files that we have and that is accurate. And yeah, he just wanted to know the process.”

Meadows did not respond to Carr’s email for comment about his visit.

HOW IT WORKS

Prior to Meadows’ brief appearance, the GBI walked Channel 2 Action News through their role in the process, which began last week at the request of Georgia’s Chief Elections officer, Brad Raffensperger.

In a release Tuesday, Raffensperger noted his office has investigated credible allegations that Cobb County improperly performed signature match during the June primary.

Following Trump’s November loss, the same type of audit was at the center of calls from top Republican leaders, including the president. Georgia county elections offices had already undergone a hand recount audit, and a machine recount at the president’s request before dozens of lawsuits with unsubstantiated fraud claims were thrown out of courts across the country. A claim about Cobb County signature match surfaced in one of the lawsuits.

Georgia electors voted for President-elect Joe Biden last Monday. Biden won Georgia by roughly 12,000 votes.

The limited signature audit takes teams of GBI agents and state election investigators to examine the absentee envelope signatures, which were separated from the actual ballot when they were processed. That ensures a secret ballot, a right that’s cemented in the state constitution. Signatures are matched twice during the ballot count process.

The signatures are compared to public state records, including driving services forms.

“We’re looking for similarities,” said Special Agent in charge Bahan Rich, describing the signature probe. “We’re looking for consistency. Consistency in shapes of letter. We’re looking for slants, if you will, in shapes of letters.”

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“The devil’s in the details, obviously,” added Rich, who compared the process to one the GBI conducts during forgery investigations.

State data indicates the signature mismatch rate from the 2018 election was roughly 0.15%.

The audit is the first of its kind in Georgia. At the advice of UGA experts, it works similar to polling, using a 10 percent sample. That means 15,000 envelope signatures are under a review that includes comparing the signatures to state records.

If one team sees a problem, it’s passed along to the next, and it can then include contacting the voter, something that hasn’t reached that level as of Tuesday.

“In this process you can have up to five different individuals looking at the envelopes,” Rich explained. “Those that are designated that still need even more review, then we’ll physically go down to the (office), and look at documents in possession of the Cobb County’s election office, and go from there regarding the particular envelope.”

Rich, who added that 35 agents were on-site alongside 15 state elections investigators, said the GBI has not conducted anything like it on this scale.

“Not in my 24 years with the bureau,” he told Carr, adding the GBI was proud to assist the state. " We’ve never done anything like this.”

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