It started with a heavy sigh. Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, pulled off his mask as he approached the podium in the Gold Dome on Tuesday morning, his frustration visible as he set down his water bottle and notes, pursing his lips. “I’m gonna do my best to keep it together, because,” he paused for about five seconds, then looked up directly at the news cameras. “It has all. Gone. Too. Far. All of it.”
From there, Sterling’s visible anger intensified as he described examples of the threats and harassment election officials and workers have endured as the state continues to re-count ballots—for the second time—from the November 3 presidential election. Sterling said that, for him, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was news that a 20-year-old Dominion voting machine tech “has death threats and a noose put out saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an EMS to a county computer so he could read it.” He also mentioned a comment from a lawyer on President Donald Trump’s re-election team that implied a cybersecurity official should be “shot” and described “caravans” of protestors outside Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s home. He went on to describe how Raffensperger’s wife had received text messages with sexual threats.
Raffensperger, Sterling’s boss, has been vocal about his confidence in Georgia’s election system and his disappointment in Trump’s unwillingness to accept defeat. The Republican, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump in his 2018 election to replace now-Governor Brian Kemp, has been criticized by the president for accepting the 2020 election results (the president went so far as to call him an “enemy of the people“) and received calls to resign from Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. He immediately dismissed those calls, saying, “the voters of Georgia hired me, and the voters will be the one to fire me.”
But Sterling, who is also a Republican, expressed more outrage over the threats sent to the 20-year-old tech than to any government officials. “I’ve got police protection outside my house, fine. I took a higher-profile job,” Sterling said. “Secretary ran for office, his wife knew that, too. This kid took a job. He just took a job, and it’s just wrong.”
Sterling called on “senators”—presumably Loeffler and Perdue, who are running in the high-profile January runoff that will determine control of the Senate—to denounce the violence and threats (“If you’re gonna take a position of leadership, show some,” he said), but most of his criticism was toward Trump, who, despite a lack of evidence, continues to suggest on social media and in interviews that there has been massive voter fraud in Georgia. Sterling called on Trump to “be the bigger man” and focus instead on re-election.
“Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We’re investigating. There’s always a possibility, I get it, and you have the rights to go through the courts,” Sterling said. “What you don’t have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. And it’s not right.”
Sterling’s passionate speech immediately gained national traction, earning headlines in The New York Times, CNN, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and others. Tweets with video of the speech were shared over and over—this one from a British journalist has more than 44,000 shares. The story was the centerpiece of today’s AJC front page.
But the people that Sterling called out—Loeffler, Perdue, and Trump—didn’t exactly snap into action in response to Sterling’s revelation. Perdue and Loeffler’s teams issued statements that made the candidates sound offended rather than troubled by the possibility of their remarks inciting violence.
“Senator Perdue condemns violence of any kind, against anybody. Period. We won’t apologize for addressing the obvious issues with the way our state conducts its elections. Georgians deserve accountability and improvements to that process—and we’re fighting to make sure the January 5 election is safe, transparent, and accurate,” said Perdue spokesperson Casey Black in a statement.
“Like many officials, as someone who has been the subject of threats, of course Senator Loeffler condemns violence of any kind. How ridiculous to even suggest otherwise. We also condemn inaction and lack of accountability in our election system process—and won’t apologize for calling it out. Senator Loeffler will continue fighting to ensure we have a fair, trusted, and accurate election because the future of our country is at stake,” said Loeffler spokesperson Stephen Lawson.
And while the Trump campaign issued a response saying, “the campaign is focused on ensuring that all legal votes are counted and all illegal votes are not. No one should engage in threats or violence, and if that has happened, we condemn that fully,” Trump himself retweeted a clip of the Sterling speech and doubled-down on his fraud message: “Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes. Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia. What is Secretary of State and [Kemp] afraid of. They know what we’ll find!!!” The tweet is flagged on Twitter as containing disputed claims.
Raffensperger, meanwhile, is continuing to ask the president to stop claiming fraud, especially in light of Attorney General William Barr declaring there has been no widespread evidence of voter fraud. “They have had multiple investigations, like us. And our investigators have seen no widespread fraud, either,” Raffensperger said in a press conference this morning, also noting that the results of the second re-count of Georgia’s ballots, which should wrap up today, will likely not change the outcome of the election. Trump, meanwhile, is still planning to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue in Valdosta on Saturday.