How Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger found himself in Trump’s crosshairs

How Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger found himself in Trump’s crosshairs
Source: Elijah Nouvelage, Reuters
Despite members of his own party and his president turning on him, Raffensperger has continued to stand by the integrity of Georgia’s election.

In 2018, then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated Democratic challenger Stacy Abrams in a contentious race for Georgia governor. Throughout that campaign, Abrams accused Kemp of using his position as secretary of state to deny new voter registrations and purge voting rolls.

It was in the aftermath of those accusations and with the promise of increased election integrity that Republican Brad Raffensperger won his election for secretary of state.

Modernizing Georgia’s election

In an interview with Atlanta’s local Fox station before he was elected, Raffensperger admitted that Georgia had been unprepared for the high volume of voters that had come out in the 2018 gubernatorial election. He added that voting machines used in the 2018 election were over 16 years old and vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In response, Georgia election officials rolled out over US$100 million worth of new voting systems in 2019. The new equipment was first used in Georgia’s 2020 presidential primary election and ran into a flurry of issues.

Not only did many of the polling stations not have adequate power to support the devices, many poll workers didn’t receive sufficient training on how to work them. Reports of long lines were commonplace throughout the state. When asked about the problems with implementation, Raffensperger blamed a lack of preparation at the county level.

Scrutiny in 2020 presidential election

In Georgia, the 2020 United States presidential election passed without any serious hiccups, with over a million mail-in ballots cast and 2.6 million choosing to vote early in person. Despite what by all accounts appeared to be a massively successful election that saw an average wait time of just two minutes on Election Day, Raffensperger soon found himself in the crosshairs of his fellow Republicans.

Initially, the secretary of state received criticism for implementing secure drop boxes for absentee ballots and opening an online registration portal with the intention of making voting easier and safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But after Georgia went for former Vice President Joe Biden in the November 3 election, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both called for Raffensperger’s resignation in a statement issued on November 9.

“There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems,” the statement read. “The Secretary of State has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately.”

In response to the senators’ call for him to resign, Raffensperger released his own statement defending the way his office had handled the election.

“President Trump received more votes than any other Republican presidential candidate in Georgia history, and Senator Perdue received more votes than the President.” Raffensperger closed by writing, “As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.”

Raffensperger later reported that he had come under increasing pressure from Republicans, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a long-term ally of President Donald Trump. Raffensperger claimed that Graham asked him in a phone call whether he had the power to toss all mail-in ballots.

Raffensperger and his family received death threats as a result of the negative attention from Trump and other Republicans, including a text message that read, “You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it.”

President Trump attacks Georgia’s election system

After three hand recounts affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, President Trump continued to claim that the Georgia election had been stolen from him despite offering no evidence to back up his claims.

On November 13, Trump tweeted, “Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state. Where is @BrianKempGA?”

Trump’s accusations cast widespread doubt over the integrity of the election among his supporters, complicating Senators Loeffler’s and Perdue’s campaigns to retain their seats in the January 5 runoff elections. In light of the victories of their Democratic opponents, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, it’s thought that some Trump voters made good on their threat to boycott the special election because of the voter fraud accusations, accusations that may have contributed to a Democratic majority in the Senate.

In an unprecedented phone call with Raffensperger, Trump laid out his claims about election fraud, asking the secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes.” The call, which lasted over an hour, put additional pressure on Raffensperger and his team.

“Well, Mr. President,” Raffensperger responded, “the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong."

Trump continued his attacks on the integrity of the election the day of the Georgia Senate runoff, tweeting, “Reports are coming out of the 12th Congressional District of Georgia that Dominion Machines are not working in certain Republican Strongholds for over an hour. Ballots are being left in lock boxes, hopefully they count them.”

Raffensperger again responded, this time to explain that all minor issues had been addressed.

“At no point did voting stop as voters continued casting ballots on emergency ballots, in accordance with the procedures set out by Georgia law,” he wrote in a midday status report.

Despite members of his own party and his president turning on him, Raffensperger has continued to stand by the integrity of Georgia’s election.

During an interview on NPR, he stated, “At the end of the day, you know, I’m going to stand on the principle of integrity. I think that it still matters.”

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