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‘BREAKING: State of Georgia Issues Huge Announcement, Will Conduct Statewide Signature Audit’

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On December 17 2020, the state of Georgia made a "shocking announcement" regarding a signature audit.

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On December 17 2020, right-wing disinformation site TrendingPolitics.com published an item titled “BREAKING: State of Georgia Issues Huge Announcement, Will Conduct Statewide Signature Audit,” which began:

In a shocking announcement, the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that the state of Georgia would be conducting a statewide audit after receiving pressure from the Trump campaign.

“We are confident that elections in Georgia are secure, reliable, and effective,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “Despite endless lawsuits and wild allegations from Washington, D.C. pundits, we have seen no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, though we are investigating all credible reports. Nonetheless, we look forward to working with the University of Georgia on this signature match review to further instill confidence in Georgia’s voting systems.”

TrendingPolitics.com’s claim was infused with urgency and rapidly gained social media traction on the afternoon of December 17 2020. The blog apparently drew its framing from an item published the same day on Daily Wire, titled “BREAKING: Georgia Conducting Statewide ‘Signature Match Review’ Of Absentee Ballots.”

In addition to a less-sensational title, Daily Wire included context for the “breaking” news, including details about a previous announcement regarding post-election data review:

“We are confident that elections in Georgia are secure, reliable, and effective,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “Despite endless lawsuits and wild allegations from Washington, D.C. pundits, we have seen no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, though we are investigating all credible reports. Nonetheless, we look forward to working with the University of Georgia on this signature match review to further instill confidence in Georgia’s voting systems.”

Raffensperger announced on Monday [December 14 2020] that the state would be reviewing signatures in Cobb County due to a complaint specific to the county. While the complaint referred to Cobb County election officials’ conduct during the primary election, the review will cover ballots sent in the primary and in the general election.

Both sites linked to a December 17 2020 statement from Georgia’s Secretary of State, “Secretary Raffensperger Announces Further Details Of Signature Match Partnership With UGA.” That statement was not presented as “breaking” or “urgent,” but rather an ongoing effort to “help instill confidence” in absentee ballots specifically after several disinformation attacks did what they were intended to do by sowing doubts about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, in which Joe Biden decisively defeated Donald Trump by a wide margin, both in the electoral and the popular votes:

(ATLANTA) –Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced [the week starting December 14 2020] that the Office of the Secretary of State would be partnering with the University of Georgia on a statewide review of signature match in the Peach State. The partnership will help instill confidence in Georgia’s absentee ballot system in future elections.

“We are confident that elections in Georgia are secure, reliable, and effective,” said Raffensperger. “Despite endless lawsuits and wild allegations from Washington, D.C. pundits, we have seen no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, though we are investigating all credible reports. Nonetheless, we look forward to working with the University of Georgia on this signature match review to further instill confidence in Georgia’s voting systems.”

Secretary Raffensperger has asked researchers at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs to conduct research, including a randomized signature match study of election materials handled at the county level in the November 3 [2020] Presidential contest. This work will also include research on processes used at the county level to perform signature-matching.

The work UGA will perform is a study of a sample of signed envelopes in each county from the presidential election. It is intended to be forward-looking, helping to inform and optimize election administration for future electoral contests in the State of Georgia.

Although both TrendingPolitics.com and Daily Wire included “BREAKING” at the beginning of their headlines, the Wall Street Journal reported something extremely similar on December 15 2020. For contrast, that headline was “Georgia to Review Mail-in Ballot Signatures to Boost Confidence in Elections,” and the article began with the following framing:

Georgia will audit signatures submitted by absentee voters in one county, after President Trump and his allies called for such a review as they continued to question President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who announced the review on Monday, has said the audit wouldn’t change the outcome of the presidential race in Georgia.

“Now that the signature matching has been attacked again and again with no evidence, I feel we need to take steps to restore confidence in our elections,” Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican, said Monday at the state Capitol.

The secretary of state’s office will work with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to audit signatures in the Atlanta suburb of Cobb County, which is expected to take two weeks, Mr. Raffensperger said. The secretary of state’s office also plans to work with a university to conduct a statewide signature match audit, he said.

It appeared that Raffensperger expanded the signature audit of absentee ballots in Cobb County to “statewide” following outside pressure, but the December 17 2020 statement included his comment that in spite of “endless lawsuits and wild allegations from Washington, D.C. pundits,” Georgia officials — many of whom are Republicans — have noted “no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, though we are investigating all credible reports.” Blog posts spreading on social media strongly implied the measure was “shocking” or “breaking news,” when the actual statement and ongoing reporting on the effort indicated otherwise — and Raffensperger added that the audit “wouldn’t change the outcome of the presidential race in Georgia.”