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Georgia GOP Officials Aim To Rebuild Public's Trust In Voting Process

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The state of Georgia is feeling the consequences of President Trump's election lies. Officials there say the November and January elections were some of the most secure and transparent in state history, with record turnout and few reported problems. But the state was also ground zero for misinformation and attacks on election integrity led by President Trump and a number of top Republicans. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler reports on efforts to rebuild public trust in the voting process.

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STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: In the Bartow County Senior Center, a dozen teams of two are hand-counting more than 43,000 ballots cast in the January 5 runoff. All the races were outside the recount margin, so it's not required. And the voters in the county an hour northwest of Atlanta are 75% Republican, so the margin isn't even close. So why spend two days doing a voluntary audit at the end of an exhausting election cycle?

Elections director Joseph Kirk.

JOSEPH KIRK: A lot of my voters, a lot of my citizens do not trust the voting system after November after a lot of misinformation went out about this specific system.

FOWLER: From local lawmakers to the president of the United States, Republicans have cast doubt on Georgia's voting machines and absentee ballots - filing lawsuits, holding hearings and claiming without evidence the election was rigged. That's frustrating to state election board member Matt Mashburn, who's spent time in recent months debunking conspiracies from fellow Republicans.

MATT MASHBURN: And the paradox is that we have these tools that we've never had before so that we can have a fair count and be confident with the tabulation and the results, but the public has the least amount of confidence.

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FOWLER: In deep-red Bartow County, many Republicans expressed concerns with 24/7 absentee drop boxes, vote counting and the machines picked by the GOP Legislature. One voter even called the police to investigate a mysterious connection to China - it was just a power cord. Republican monitor Judy Kilgore says it helps to see things with your own eyes and to know that your friends and neighbors that you trust are the ones doing the counting.

JUDY KILGORE: I can personally hear them. I can walk around the tables. I can observe what they're doing.

FOWLER: Observing how the electoral sausage gets made isn't just something for skeptical Republicans. Democratic monitor Karen Tindall threw herself into volunteering this year at the age of 71, in part because she wanted to help take partisan politics out of the way our votes are counted.

KAREN TINDALL: I think we just need to talk about the process and explain it to people because our elections are safe, and they are fair.

FOWLER: As Georgia's Legislature gets back to action, some Republican lawmakers have promised to crack down on absentee ballots, after spending weeks spreading misinformation and false claims of fraud. There are signs changes might not be so extreme. Three senators who backed lawsuits trying to overturn Georgia's election results have been silently removed from committee chairmanships, and the House will appoint a bipartisan commission to look at what might come next.

For NPR News, I'm Stephen Fowler in Cartersville, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.