As the U.S. state of Georgia begins early voting in a pair of runoff elections that will determine party control of the U.S. Senate, many Republicans are debating whether to vote in a system they believe to be fraudulent.
“I think the presidential election was rigged,” Georgia resident Kyle Huneycutt, a Republican voter, told VOA, referring to the November 3 election that saw Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeat Republican President Donald Trump. “And I have very little confidence in Georgia’s capacity to conduct a fair and accurate election in January, either.”
A POLITICO/Morning Consult survey from last month showed that even though there is a lack of evidence of widespread cheating, 70% of Republicans do not believe the November 3 presidential election was free and fair.
Over the past six weeks, some notable Trump supporters – including Sidney Powell, a former member of the president’s legal team, and high-profile Georgia attorney Lin Wood – have encouraged Georgia Republicans to boycott the January 5 elections that will pit Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock.
“Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?” Wood asked attendees at a recent rally in an Atlanta suburb.
“I don’t trust the election will be fair,” Huneycutt said, “but if we don’t vote, it guarantees we lose the Senate. And that’s unacceptable.”
To vote or not to vote
With President-elect Biden to be sworn in on January 20 and with Democrats retaining control of the House of Representatives, many see the U.S. Senate as Republicans’ last chance to protect what they consider to be the accomplishments of Trump’s administration and to block the legislative agenda of the incoming one.
“I’m voting Republican on January 5 because losing the White House, House and Senate to the Democrats scares the bejesus out of me!” explained Alberto Perez, who lives in Blairsville, in rural, northern Georgia.
When asked if he believed voter fraud took place during the November election, Perez said he was unsure.
“I honestly don’t know what to think,” he said, adding he had many unanswered questions. “I understand evidence is needed to prove your case, but I also know that lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean lack of fraud – it might also just mean a lack of evidence for now.”
Trump and his campaign warned of voter fraud in the months leading up to the election as the coronavirus pandemic prompted many states – including Georgia – to expand opportunities for mail-in voting.
In the weeks since the election, Trump has attacked the outcome, insisting he is, in fact, the winner.
According to Marc Elias, a lawyer leading Democrats' fight against these challenges, the president and his allies have brought 60 cases alleging voter fraud before various courts in key swing states, six of them in Georgia. To date, 59 of those cases have been defeated in court while the one Republican victory affected only a small number of ballots in Pennsylvania -- nowhere near the number needed to overturn Biden's 80,000-vote lead.
Among the most targeted subjects of Trump’s ire have been two leading Georgia officials, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump has repeatedly said the two haven’t done enough to uncover fraud in the November election and is now demanding an audit of signatures on mail-in ballots even after two recounts (including one hand tally) both declared Biden the winner.
This prompted some experts to speculate that accusations of fraud could cause Republican voters to sit out the Senate runoff elections, succumbing to a feeling that a rigged system means their votes don’t matter.
“What I’m hearing and reading is that some Republicans are expressing they won’t be voting,” said Charles S. Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, “not because they’re rejecting senators Perdue or Loeffler, but because what the president has said has made them dubious of the integrity of the political system.”
A tight election
On social media platforms Twitter and Parler, hashtags such as #StoptheSteal show what appear to be Republican voters suggesting they will not cast a ballot in the upcoming runoffs because of a distrust in the election system or a distaste in voting for two senators they feel aren’t adequately fighting for their embattled president. It is unclear how this translates to votes, however.
But Perez doesn’t believe the infighting – real or perceived – will affect the election.
“Trump followers are more clear-eyed than we’re given credit for,” he said, when asked about a December 5 rally Trump held in Georgia to rail against the election results and also to support senators Perdue and Loeffler. “Yes, he came here and was critical of Kemp’s disappearing act and Raffensperger’s refusal to match signatures, but he also encouraged everyone there to vote early for our senators.”
Perez believes it was important for the senators to be seen on stage with Trump, who remains extremely popular among Republican voters. But some experts wonder if the rift in the GOP – for example, Trump recently called Kemp “a fool” on Twitter for not pushing harder for signature verification – could be enough to turn the election in the Democrats’ favor.
“You like to have a party together in advance of an election, but there’s a lot of public bickering taking place among Republicans,” Bullock said. “It’s impossible to say how big of an effect that will have on who votes and who doesn’t, but in races as tight as these look to be, that could make all the difference.”
As the election nears, the GOP senators hold a slight lead over their Democratic challengers, according to a poll this week by Emerson College. Huneycutt believes that’s because voters share the same motivation he has for voting on January 5.
“This election isn’t about Perdue and Loeffler – it’s about the ‘R’ beside their name,” he said, referring to their membership in the Republican Party. “It’s about keeping control of the Senate ... My vote might not matter if there’s fraud, but my job as a citizen is still to vote.”