Jan 6, 2021

Georgia Secretary of State Office Press Conference Transcript January 6: Senate Runoff Election

Georgia Secretary of State Office Press Conference Transcript January 6: Senate Runoff Election
RevBlogTranscriptsPolitical TranscriptsGeorgia Secretary of State Office Press Conference Transcript January 6: Senate Runoff Election

Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling held a press conference on January 6 to address the Senate runoff election results. He said President Trump was to blame for Republicans losing the presidency and both Senate seats in Georgia. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.

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Gabriel Sterling : (00:00)
… not yet. So let’s go from the top. I’ll do this in the order of the largest amount of absentee ballots that we know have been checked in, but not actually scanned and uploaded into the results yet. Number one is DeKalb County with 17,902. Let me stop. Let me throw every caveat in the world at this, counties are still putting stuff in, they’re also scanning, so these numbers will be a little bit fluid during the day to day. But these are the basic ones we have as of 10:00 AM. This morning is the latest numbers we have available. The next one down is Henry County at 9,078. After that is Cobb at 5,896, Chatham at 5,318, Fulton at 5,294, Gwinnett at 5,068, Thomas at 2078, Bryan at 1,515, Meriwether at 1,325, Dougherty at 1200, Fayette at 11,39 and Forsyth at 752. They trail off after that. Clayton has 528, Lincoln 543, Peach 524, but you get the basics. The biggest buckets of them are from the Metro area with a handful scattered about the state.

Gabriel Sterling : (01:28)
We have requested of the counties, we don’t have a right to direct them, but we have requested that they get all of the absentee ballots accounted for, as in they have received them, they know they’re there and put into our voter registration system e-net as of 1:00 PM today. Most counties will make that deadline. Other ones are working diligently to get through that. But again, I want to remind everybody, these folks are all tired. They’ve had a long day and a long week and a long month and a long year, but they are doing their best to get these results quickly. I know some people were surprised to how quickly the results did come in, but that’s the advantage of having three races on the ballot.

Gabriel Sterling : (02:05)
Again, another point of interest for people locally, or as we’ve seen, both incumbent Republican senators fall behind the vote count, the incumbent public service commissioner, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, has continued to maintain his lead. And with the number of ballots out, it looks like he may be able to win as well, but it looks like he will likely be within a margin of the recount, which is a half a point. But again, we don’t know until all the ballots are in. And with that, I will take any questions. Yeah, Dustin. Justin, sorry. Need more coffee.

Justin: (02:41)
Has there been any evidence or any indication of any potential fraud or irregularities?

Gabriel Sterling : (02:44)
No evidence of any irregularities. The biggest thing we’ve seen is from the president’s fertile mind of finding fraud where none exists. We’ve seen a couple of other things. There was somebody put out a tweet that took a picture of shredded paper and said, “We are in Georgia and here are shredded ballots.” So that is the extent of the evidence we’ve seen. We’ve had a few things come in on the hotline that might be investigated. But again, we’ve seen nothing widespread. We’ve seen nothing that seems real in any way, shape or form, quite honestly. Ma’am.

Speaker 3: (03:14)
Republicans have suffered a double defeat here with the presidential race and now apparently the two Senate races. Where do you think the blame lies within the Republican party, specifically [inaudible 00:00:03:25]?

Gabriel Sterling : (03:26)
I think you’ve heard this answer from me over the last 24 hours two times, President Donald J. Trump. Between him and a couple of other people who ran for office who didn’t necessarily think it all the way through as to what the outcomes could be, it all comes out of that. When you say your vote doesn’t count, then you have people who you’ve laid your hands on, say, “These are my people,” who say, “Don’t come and vote,” then you spark a civil war within a GOP that needed to be United to get through a tough fight like this in a state that has been trending, from the point of view of Republicans, in the other direction for years now. Let’s remember Stacey Abrams, who is yet to concede the 2018 gubernatorial race, came with the 55,000 votes of winning that race.

Gabriel Sterling : (04:05)
So you need to have a unified team with a unified message looking to the future, and that somebody pointed out, I believe it was a CNN commentator, if you look over the last two months, the present of the United States spent more time attacking Governor Kemp and Secretary Raffensperger than he did Raphael Warnock and Senator-to-be probably Ossoff.

Speaker 3: (04:25)
And how does that sit with you as a Republic?

Gabriel Sterling : (04:28)
It irritates me. What else we got?

Speaker 4: (04:31)
What are the numbers that you’ve seen so far about those that are still outstanding places that they’re located suggest about whether or not? If Ossoff does win, could that be outside of the recount margin?

Gabriel Sterling : (04:45)
Well, right now we look at 60,470 that are available to come in for that. That number will go up as they continue to process ballots from the areas they’re from. It makes it look like Jon Ossoff will likely have a margin outside of the half a percent to avoid a recount. And obviously Reverend Warnock is ahead of him right now. So if Ossoff avoids that recount, so does Reverend Warnock.

Speaker 4: (05:08)
And is there a breakdown of how many of these are potentially absentee ballots that were received that day-

Gabriel Sterling : (05:10)
These are all absentees. One of the other things we’re asking for the counties is to get us in the provisional ballots. We know the provisional ballots are going to be in Fulton and DeKalb in the thousands because there’s an issue where many Democrat turnout machines say go to any precinct, so people vote out of precinct. In this particular election, it doesn’t matter as much because every precinct had the same people on the ballot. But we got to make sure people get out of the habit of doing that because if you vote out a precinct in a regular election, you skip all those races in the bottom. So you’re really disenfranchising voters when you train them to do that. It’s a bad practice.

Speaker 4: (05:44)
But you’re saying we don’t have a read on how many right now, total provisional ballots there are essentially?

Gabriel Sterling : (05:48)
No we don’t, but we can spit ball since it’ll probably be somewhere south of 10,000. Steve?

Steve: (05:55)
Hi. Are you concerned at all about blurring the line between an election official and a pundit with some of the comments that you made over the last 24 hours and the way that that might be interpreted once the results are questioned by some who are unhappy?

Gabriel Sterling : (06:10)
Yeah, on occasion, but people ask my personal opinion and this is one of those things where it’s a weird blended position. And I’m a well-known Republican. I can’t really hide that fact, but I try to make sure I walk the line. And I think with the way this office has conducted itself, it’d been a hell of a lot easier for us to go along with some of these presidential claims and to actually stand up for the truth in these cases. So I understand some people have that question. I’ve had to deal with it on Twitter. Last I checked, I’m an American, I have a first amendment right to answer some of these things, but I try to separate from my role here and my role when I answer a specific political type questions. You’re right. But anybody in these positions, every human being alive has opinions, I just tend to be a little more honest about what I think of them, and I think that makes me do my job better and it gives me some more credibility when it comes to it. Yes, yes.

Speaker 4: (06:52)
On the military ballots, you said yesterday there were about 17,000 outstanding-

Gabriel Sterling : (06:53)
We’re down to about 14,000 that are still outstanding. It’s the military and overseas. I don’t have a breakdown between the two different types right now, but it’s 14,000 available. And to remind everybody, those that can be postmarked by yesterday can be received accepted by Friday. But historically, it’s going to be more than zero that come in. It’s going to be a lot less than 14,000 that come in.

Mark: (07:13)
How do you-

Gabriel Sterling : (07:15)
Oh, hey, Mark. I didn’t see you back there. Sorry.

Mark: (07:17)
Yeah, yeah. We had very high election day turnout yesterday, higher than the presidential election. Why do you think that is? What’s the explanation for such high election day turn out after good, but not that good early turn out?

Gabriel Sterling : (07:31)
Well, a couple of things happened there. In the primary in June, we have 880,000 show up. In the general election, we had 970,000. I’m spitballing here, I’ve got a lot of numbers in my head right now. And we had 1.3 million show up yesterday. A part of that was, again, the president encouraging Republicans, not to use mail or early vote options. And some people were just going to skip it altogether. I think what we saw happen on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday was that the areas that had seen depressed turnout compared to Metro areas started to show up. And I think what happened in some partisan circles, Republican sides, started dawning on them, “Oh crap. We’re going to lose this if we don’t turn out.” So there was a real big push to get people out of the last day. But the Democrats did a very good job of banking their votes early and using the options that have been available to the Georgians for over a decade. So there’s nothing new here.

Gabriel Sterling : (08:22)
These are all tools that have been available. Corona virus changed some voting patterns and behaviors. Georgia is historically an in-person voting state. So I think part of it is just people getting used to doing it again. The threat of coronavirus, while it’s going up, in some people’s perceived as going down. And just let me say this for the elections workers and the launching of a new system, this state, this office, and these counties launched the largest new voting system in the history of United States and did it in record time, executed it well in the middle of the pandemic and had a record turnout in each and every election we saw. That is unprecedented. And I want to give a big thank you again to the elections officials and poll workers and elections workers who really worked their tails off to make this a successful election for Georgians.

Gabriel Sterling : (09:13)
One of the things we haven’t heard about in this election, nobody was complaining about lines. Nobody’s saying they were disenfranchised. Everybody who wanted to vote had an opportunity to vote, and we feel very proud of that fact.

Mark: (09:24)
And have you looked at whether election day turn out was higher than expected or lower than expected in Republican or Democratic area?

Gabriel Sterling : (09:32)
I haven’t had an opportunity to do a breakdown by that. We’ve been trying to just really just stay on the counties and work with them to get sure that we get the… Like I said before, fast is good, accurate as better. Analysis can come later to see the specifics. We want to make sure we get the right results out to take away the opportunity for people to say that there was fraud and there’s questions to be had about these things, because these are the results. These are the ballots.

Gabriel Sterling : (09:54)
We have known since last week, since last Friday that they were going to be 2,073,000 and some odd votes that were going to be cast in the advanced bucket because that was how many were cast. The president continues to say, “Oh, they’re finding ballots. These were advanced, came out of nowhere.” No, we have known that DeKalb County had 171,000 ballots since Friday evening, Saturday morning. So the statements he keeps on putting out there are incorrect and they undermine people’s faith in the election process. And again, this is a bipartisan problem.

Gabriel Sterling : (10:23)
If you go back and do polls from 2016 of Democrat voters, there are over 50% of that still believe Russians hacked voting machines to say they flip votes for Donald Trump. That didn’t happen. You know what else didn’t happen? Dominion machines did not flip votes for Joe Biden. Neither of those things happened. And everybody on both sides of the aisle, who continue to make these kinds of claims, undermine the election process and the country, undermine democracy and undermine the health of the Republic.

Speaker 4: (10:48)
Have you received any inquiries or complaints from either of the two, or any of the candidates, on anything that has happened thus far or any indication?

Gabriel Sterling : (10:57)
I think it’s a little early right now for that, but I fully anticipate we will have questions and there may be legitimate questions out there from people, and it’s our job to answer them as frankly as we can with the facts, as best we can, as quickly as we can. Yes.

Speaker 3: (11:10)
And what do you mean by 1:00 PM from the counties if they would?

Gabriel Sterling : (11:13)
We made a request of them because in Georgia, the cutoff time to receive absentee ballots, other than military and overseas, is 7:00 PM on election day. That’s when the drop boxes get locked down and the mail comes in. Nothing else can come in after that. So while they’re busy doing election day activities, it’s hard to say, “We’re going to have a group of people over here while the rest of us are counting. You go deal with absentee ballots.” Some of these counties are under-resourced. Some of them have big staffs, but they’re exhausted and focusing on getting one thing done at a time.

Gabriel Sterling : (11:42)
So what we did is we were asking them, account for all the ballots you have in so that we can tell the press and the press can tell the voters, “This is the outward bound or the number of ballots we can have to count,” so we know where there actually is, or it can give the press and political talking heads the opportunity to make a call. And in this particular case, the last couple of calls to be made are in the PSE race and in the Ossoff Perdue race.

Gabriel Sterling : (12:09)
What else? Yes. Ma’am

Speaker 7: (12:14)
In terms of high turn out of newly registered voters, does your office have insight into those numbers and how that may have played a role since general?

Gabriel Sterling : (12:18)
Not yet, but I will say one thing, it was an impressive feat by whoever did it to get 100,000 people to show up on a January election who did not show up in a November election. That is probably a margin. My assumption is that those are probably Democrat voters given the demographics we’ve seen of that. And that is a testament to hard work that was done. While Republicans were busy attacking the governor and my boss, the Democrats were out there knocking on doors and getting people to turn out to vote. Yes.

Speaker 7: (12:47)
And it’s looking at North Georgia had a drop-off in voting. Is that what you’re seeing as well?

Gabriel Sterling : (12:53)
Well, I haven’t had a chance to dig deep into it, but people who I trust to have stated that, so I will accept that it’s likely true. And that is the area where we believe that, like Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, along with the president, have essentially through their actions and their statements discouraged voting by Republican voters, which has ended up hurting both of our incumbent senators.

Speaker 8: (13:10)
And were there any areas of turnout that surprised you?

Gabriel Sterling : (13:15)
Frankly, all of them did. This is a runoff. We had 4.3 million votes cast, so almost 4.4, and we had 5 million casts in general election. That is unheard of. In 2018, we had 4 million votes cast in the original. In the runoff, there was 1.485 million. The record previously for a runoff was 2.1 million with Saxby Chambliss. This blows every turnout model away. Now, let me say this with one caveat. When you spend a half a billion dollars of money from out of state, you can get people to turn out. So that’s the other thing that’s a little bit different than most runoffs. That it? Oh, one more, okay.

Speaker 4: (13:51)
One last question. You mentioned you were very complimentary of how things went and there were no lines and people didn’t have to wait. Is their intention then from the secretary of state’s office to keep some of these methods that were put in place for COVID-19, but obviously made it a lot easier for more people to vote?

Gabriel Sterling : (14:08)
The thing is, all these methods have been available for decades in this state. So the one thing we do have an issue with that makes it very difficult in the counties is because of the increased use of the absentee process. Essentially there’s a three-week period where they have to run three elections at a time, essentially. You have to run the three weeks of early voting. Then you have to run an absentee ballot program that literally by law begins 45 days beforehand. So you’re running that the entire time. And then about two weeks before the actual election, you have to do the processes of the general election. These people are understaffed, they’re underpaid, they’re under-resourced, so something has to give on that one.

Gabriel Sterling : (14:43)
So right now, we have no excuse absentee. We may see a move by the legislature to move to an excuse-based system, and taking away signature match by having a specific photo ID or unique identifier pin like other states do, driver’s license, state ID, social security number as a specific identifier that is binary, as opposed to having a signature match, which can be viewed as subjective and it kind of undermines people’s faith in the system to a degree because like, “Oh, anybody could choose to take those signatures in. We don’t know who actually did it.” So we’re going to see reforms, I guarantee that. But one of the things I will say is this is one of the easiest states to register. This one of the easiest states to vote. It’s very easy to vote and very hard to cheat. Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 9: (15:24)
Can you recap the situation in Fulton County yesterday in a lawsuit that was filed in terms of the monitors?

Gabriel Sterling : (15:31)
Yeah. So they’re at Georgia World Congress Center. That’s a big place. So it’s a difficult thing to allow people to move in and around this stuff that you’re doing. Now, Fulton did a few extra things that I think were inappropriate given the way the law is written. The intention of the law is to allow monitors and the public to view the voting process. And that includes signature match, that includes counting, that includes all of that. Unfortunately, Fulton County put up some opaque barriers so you couldn’t see anything that they were doing.

Gabriel Sterling : (15:58)
Now, their argument, and there’s a push and pull with this, the state mandates that you protect the personal identifying information of individual voters and the secrecy of their vote. That’s one side. It also says, “Hey, you got to let everybody see what’s going on.” So you have to have a balance between those things. In our opinion, and in the court’s opinion obviously, Fulton County went a little bit too much on the side of keeping monitors away. So they settled. Judge Barwick entered a consent order with the Republican party. I think it Fulton County Republican party and Fulton County, and they kind of split the baby.

Gabriel Sterling : (16:30)
They would keep them at 20 feet away. They made it 10 feet away. They took down the opaque barriers. They put down tape that allowed them to get some better viewing. And we believe that sunlight and transparency is a better thing for people to feel more secure about this. And we instructed the counties. And even at 1:00 in the afternoon, we had resent to the Fulton County office, “Here’s a state election board rule and the code section. You need to be as…” We don’t directly, “Go talk to your County attorney, look at this and you make better decisions about how you’re letting people view these things.”

Gabriel Sterling : (16:58)
So in the future, we hope there’ll be better practices. But hopefully we won’t have gigantic World Congress Center type things. We’ll have a more normal process that can allow for better and easier viewing. All right. Thank you very much.

Speaker 4: (17:09)
Can I ask one more question? Sorry.

Gabriel Sterling : (17:10)
You’re that kid and Colton’s class, aren’t you?

Speaker 4: (17:13)
I am.

Gabriel Sterling : (17:13)

Speaker 4: (17:13)
Before I became a journalist.

Gabriel Sterling : (17:14)
All right.

Speaker 4: (17:15)
All right. So the PSC candidate, the Republican incumbent, won more votes than, it looks like at this point, both of the Senate candidates.

Gabriel Sterling : (17:24)
About 38,000 more than Senator Loeffler, and about 20,000 more than Senator Perdue last I checked.

Speaker 4: (17:29)
I’d get you to put on your Republican hat again on here. What do you make of that?

Gabriel Sterling : (17:32)
It means there’s people who did not vote for Senators Perdue and Loeffler, who did vote for that, which makes me think there’s probably Republicans who chose not to vote for the two incumbent senators. Is that it? All right, thank you all very much.

Mark: (17:45)
Do you expect to do this again today?

Gabriel Sterling : (17:47)
Maybe not here if we do this again. If we do this again, it may be at another location. Has yet to be determined, but it probably has a shiny gold dome on top.

Mark: (18:09)
[crosstalk 00:18:09]