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Georgia governor pushes back on Trump’s call for resignation

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference on vaccines for COVID-19 at Emory Health Care Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday called a tweet by President Donald Trump demanding his resignation a “distraction” and said he was focused on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and upcoming runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats.

Trump said earlier in the day that Kemp, a fellow Republican, was an “obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!" Trump lost the state to Democrat Joe Biden but has repeatedly made baseless accusations that illegal votes cost him the state's electoral votes. He has also previously criticized Kemp, who has rejected his demands to undermine the results. In Wednesday's tweet, he said Kemp “should resign from office.”

“All of these things are a distraction," Kemp said at a news conference at the state Capitol. “I mean, I’ve supported the president. I’ve said that many times. I worked as hard as anybody in the state on his reelection up through Nov. 3.”

Kemp said the focus should be on the state's Jan. 5 elections. Democrats need to win both seats to take control of the U.S. Senate.

“All these other things, there is a constitutional and legal process that is playing out, and I’m very comfortable letting that process play out," he said.

The spat flared as Georgia officials continued to defend the election results.

Investigators who audited the signatures on more than 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in one Georgia county found “no fraudulent absentee ballots,” according to the audit report.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced earlier this month that his office would work with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to do the signature audit in suburban Atlanta's Cobb County. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said at the time that Trump's campaign had alleged that Cobb County didn't properly conduct the signature match for the June primary.

"This audit disproves the only credible allegations the Trump campaign had against the strength of Georgia’s signature match processes,” Raffensperger, also a Republican, said in a news release Monday.

Biden narrowly won Georgia by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast.

The investigators reviewed 15,118 absentee ballot envelopes from randomly selected boxes, about 10% of the total received in Cobb County for the November general election, according to the audit report. That sample size was chosen to “reach a 99% confidence level in the results.”

The Cobb County elections department had “a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures,” the audit report says.

In two cases, the audit team determined that a voter should have been contacted to fix a problem. In both those cases, investigators interviewed the voters and determined they were the ones who cast the ballots, the report says.

Georgians can request absentee ballots either through an online portal that Raffensperger established in September or by submitting an application. For online requests, they provide their driver’s license number and date of birth to verify their identity. If they use an application, they must sign it for verification.

When an application is received, county election workers compare the signature on the application to the voter’s signature on file, and if it is consistent, a ballot is mailed, Raffensperger has said.

Before submitting an absentee ballot, a voter must sign an oath on an outer envelope. When county election officials receive an absentee ballot, they must compare the signature to the absentee ballot application if one exists and to the signature on file. The signatures must be consistent but don’t have to match exactly, Raffensperger has said.

If the signature doesn’t match, the voter is notified and can take other steps to verify identity. If the signature does match, the ballot is separated from the envelope to protect the right to ballot secrecy guaranteed by Georgia law.

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Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this report.