During remarks to the Rotary Club of Statesboro last week, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that Georgia has “bit by bit” won against challenges to the integrity of its elections from within both major political parties.
“And we just want you to know, we think we’re going to have record turnout next year, in 2024,” he said. “We understand, and I think you understand, that our country is polarized, and because it’s polarized, it’s just really encouraging people to get out on both sides of the aisle.
“But we can give you 100 percent confidence that the election will be secure and it will be accurate,” Raffensperger declared.
A Republican first elected as secretary of state in 2018, he faced verbal attacks from within his own party after now-President Joe Biden carried Georgia by a slim margin over then-President Donald Trump in November 2020 and two Democrats won the state’s U.S. Senate seats in a subsequent runoff.
Some people who believed or pushed false claims that Trump had won also threatened and accused county-level election workers in Georgia. Just last week, June 20, the day before Raffensperger spoke here, the State Elections Board formally concluded an investigation that began two and a half years ago into allegations of misconduct by Fulton County election workers. Trump supporters – including a team who spoke to state lawmakers in December 2020 – used edited video to advance false claims of two election workers having produced “suitcases” full of illegal ballots.
But agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with investigators in Raffensperger’s office, concluded that “there was no evidence of any type of fraud as alleged,” stated the report last week.
“The GBI looked at it, the FBI looked at it and President Trump’s handpicked U.S. attorney looked at it, and everyone said that nothing had happened untoward about the ballot-stuffing in State Farm Arena and those two election workers, and that was finally dismissed yesterday,” Raffensperger told Statesboro Rotary members.
He had made a more strongly worded statement in a press release issued by the Secretary of State’s Office the day before.
“We remain diligent and dedicated to looking into real claims of voter fraud,” Raffensperger said in print. “We are glad the State Election Board finally put this issue to rest. False claims and knowingly false allegations made against these election workers have done tremendous harm. Election workers deserve our praise for being on the front lines.”
Senate Bill 202
Since early 2021 when the Republican-majority Georgia General Assembly made changes to the state’s election process through Senate Bill 202, Raffensperger has defended and advocated most of those changes, whose harshest critics included Biden and other Democrats as well as leaders of some major corporations.
Last year, Raffensperger – a structural engineer and contractor by education and in his previous career – won re-election by first capturing 52.4% of the primary votes against three Republican challengers, including Trump-endorsed Jody Hice. Raffensperger then carried the general election with 53.2% of the votes over a Democrat and a Libertarian.
‘Winning bit by bit’
But the “winning” he spoke of foremost during his question and answer session with Statesboro Rotary members was winning confidence in the fairness and security of Georgia’s elections.
“We are winning bit by bit, and I think that bit by bit people understand that Georgia has safe, honest and fair elections,” Raffensperger said. “And I think that’s why we saw the resounding success that both the governor and I had last year in our re-election campaigns. When you stand strong in the truth, most people recognize that.”
He still touts, as significant improvements, Senate Bill 202’s expansion of the number of in-person early voting days and its requirement of photo identification to obtain an absentee ballot.
“We now have photo ID for all forms of voting here in Georgia,” Raffensperger said in his opening remarks. “So if you want to vote early, you’ve got to show your ID, if you want to show up on Election Day, you’ve got to show your ID, and if you want to vote absentee, you’ve got to show photo ID.”
Before his first term began in 2019, he was already advocating for a change from Georgia’s previous use of a “signature match” system for verifying absentee ballot applications.
“People don’t realize – did you know that there’s a political party that sued us over our absentee voting, the signature match? Do you know which one it was?” Raffensperger asked, and answered, “It was actually both of them. It was the Democrat Party that sued us and the Republican Party.”
As he noted, the Democratic Party of Georgia, along with an organization founded by Stacey Abrams, sued the state after Abrams, in her first time as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, lost by a narrow 55,000-vote margin and did not concede.
“Then after the Republican Party lost in 2020, we got sued on the other side,” Raffensperger said.
He proposed the system of requiring certain forms of photo ID, which for most Georgia residents means a drivers license, with absentee ballot applications because the driver’s license number provides an “objective criteria,” he said.
Both Minnesota, which he referred to as a “Democrat” state, and Nebraska, a “Republican” state, had pioneered the use of photo ID with absentee ballots.
“By having a driver’s license number, it’s objective,” Raffensperger said. “They’ve been using that in Minnesota. Minnesota has never been sued by the Department of Justice, and actually, just so you’re aware, we are being sued currently by the Department of Justice on that very fact.”
“We will win. We’ll meet them and beat them in a court of law,” he said.
He noted that Senate Bill 202 “actually increased” Georgia’s required number of statewide early voting days to 17 before a general election, including two required Saturdays.
Georgia had strong turnout on both Saturdays in 2022, he said.
“Guess who votes on Saturdays, people with jobs, because they couldn’t get off Monday to Friday – so that was a tremendous benefit to all of Georgia; it didn’t pick one party or another,” he said.
But Biden had “pilloried” Georgia officials over Senate Bill 202, while “his home state of Delaware has only has 10 days of early voting,” said Raffensperger.
The criticisms of Senate Bill 202, including calls for boycotts of Georgia, focused on other aspects of the legislation. These include restrictions on the use of drop boxes, a reduction in days for obtaining absentee ballots and a prohibition on outside groups supplying food and water to people waiting in line to vote.
Raffensperger noted that both the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Bipartisan Policy Center, which he said is “actually on the other side of the aisle,” have since rated Georgia among the top states for election reliability.
A club member, noting some of the boycotts, asked Raffensperger if he feels vindicated.
“I know it did cost us the All-Star Game,” he said. “If it helps you at all, we did win the World Series.”
Of course that was the Atlanta Braves’ win, back in fall 2021. Raffensperger and his wife took their grandson, 11 at the time, to the Saturday game.
“We had the time of our life,” Raffensperger said. “So that was sweet justice right there.”