- When President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia, President Donald Trump and top Republicans condemned the state's top election official, Brad Raffensperger, who also belongs to the GOP.
- In an interview with Insider, Raffensperger said that contrary to Trump and other Republicans' claims, his office has taken extensive, painstaking efforts to better secure both in-person and absentee voting.
- Raffensperger called out prominent critics including Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, for creating "issues out of whole cloth that aren't supported by facts" and not taking action to reform election laws while in Congress.
- He also warned that attacking mail voting and casting doubt on the integrity of elections may have contributed to Trump's loss in Georgia and could hurt Republicans' chances in the upcoming Senate runoff elections.
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When President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia's 16 Electoral College votes — the first Democratic presidential nominee to do so since 1992 — and the state's two GOP senators headed to runoffs, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican chief election official, drew the ire of many top Republicans.
Shortly after Election Day, Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are now advancing to January 5 runoff elections, called on Raffensperger to resign from office, claiming without any evidence that Georgia's Secretary of State "failed to deliver honest and transparent elections."
President Donald Trump also repeatedly attacked Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Twitter, accusing them of being "RINOS," wrongly stating that a consent degree the state entered into to standardize its signature matching procedures is "unconstitutional," and alleging that the election was beset by fraud and irregularities.
Raffensperger, who describes himself as a conservative Republican and told Insider on Wednesday that he counts former President Ronald Reagan among his heroes, now finds himself at odds with some members of his own party.
In the process, he's become an unlikely subject of praise and applause from liberals for his resolute defense of Georgia's election system and his blunt rebukes of unfounded claims from Trump and his allies that the 2020 election was rigged or untrustworthy.
ProPublica reported on Wednesday that the Trump campaign began pressuring Raffensperger to publicly endorse and support the president's reelection campaign as far back as January. Raffensperger, however, resisted these efforts.
In an interview with Insider, he criticized some activists who unsuccessfully filed lawsuits to require Georgia to use hand-marked paper ballots as "modern-day Luddites," and also blasted some of his prominent critics on the right, particularly Rep. Doug Collins, who ran in the special jungle election for a Senate seat and lost to Loeffler.
Referring to Collins as "the president's mouthpiece," Raffensperger said, "He did nothing when he was a Congressman. And I think he needs to answer to the voters why he never did anything for election reform."
"Now he wants to sit here and create issues out of whole cloth that aren't supported by facts. But the fact is, this man did nothing when he was a Congressman, he can run, but he can't hide from his voting record," Raffensperger added.
He specifically pointed to a provision of the 2002 Help America Vote Act that restricts states from making changes to their voter lists 90 days before an election. Per Raffensperger, that makes it harder to remove people who have moved out of state from the voter rolls.
"Our law does not allow us to update our voter rolls 90 days out of an election. And so when you have that, that's really 25% of the year. That's 200,000 Georgians that may have moved in that 90-day period. And yet we're allowed to register people 30 days out," Raffensperger said. "That's why I have to point out that Doug Collins, when he was a congressman, when he had control of the House, he did nothing on this."
Collins' office did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The 'most secure election ever'
On Wednesday morning, as officials prepare to conclude a statewide risk-limiting audit (the first of its kind in Georgia and in the American South), Raffensperger told Insider that the 2020 election was "the most secure election ever."
"Every time these rumors come up, it's like the rumor whack-a-mole, we go ahead and we address it, and we have a transparent process and we have press releases on a daily basis ... but also there's been a lot of misinformation and honestly, disinformation or outright lying," he said of pervasive election misinformation on social media, a lot of which is pushed by the president and his inner circle.
Raffensperger oversaw Georgia's process of replacing its aging, paperless electronic voting machines with ballot-marking device machines. On those machines, voters enter their choices on an electronic touchscreen that produces a paper ballot with a QR code that is then read by a scanning machine.
The new system allows the state to conduct audits of the votes cast on its machines for the first time in this century. Te audit revealed that two counties had initially failed to count some of the votes that had been cast, but did not find widespread irregularities.
Georgia also commissioned the Pro V&V laboratory to conduct a separate forensic audit on a sample of machines and scanners used in five counties, which found no evidence of foul play or machine malfunction.
"We did hand-tally, a re-tally of this so that we could verify the accuracy of machines. And that way we could put to bed this idea that the election was not accurate," Raffensperger said. "The election appears to be very accurate and as a Republican, I'm disappointed, but as a Secretary of State, my job is to report accurate results."
Furthermore, Raffensperger said, his office worked to strengthen procedures to secure absentee and mail voting that, taken together, go far beyond the security measures in many other states.
In addition to prohibiting the third-party collection of mail ballots, sometimes referred to as "ballot harvesting," Georgia now requires voters to submit a photo ID when requesting a mail ballot through the state's new online portal.
The state has also bolstered its use of signature verification, with officials comparing a voter's signature on the outer envelope their ballot comes in with a previous signature on file. Law enforcement officers trained election officials in signature-matching techniques, Raffensperger said, and signature verification was required not just for mail-in ballots, but even for ballot applications.
Attacking mail voting may leave Republicans outmatched on the 'political battlefield'
As an official located at the intersection of election administration and Republican politics, Raffensperger warned that GOP leaders mischaracterizing mail voting as untrustworthy may "demoralize" voters and hurt them not only in the state's upcoming runoffs, which will decide control of the Senate, but also long term.
Raffensperger told both WBS News and Insider that around 24,000 registered Republicans who voted in the state's June primary did not cast a ballot at all in the general election. He specifically pointed to Perdue outperforming Trump in the Atlanta metro area as evidence as to why the president's strategy may have worked against him.
"After we had our June primary, President Trump disparaged what he called 'mail-in ballots.' And that's really confusing, because we don't do mail-in ballots. We do absentee, it requires you to request a ballot. But Republicans, typically, we fall in line," Raffensperger said.
Older Republicans in particular, who face a heightened risk of being infected by the coronavirus, "didn't vote absentee because that was Trump's express concern, but then they didn't come out in person. And look at that right there: those were left out on the political battlefield, and those were folks that should have been captured by the Republican Party," he added.
Instead of attacking the election process, Republican candidates will succeed if they take advantage of the fact that Georgia, unlike many other Republican states, offers three methods of voting: no-excuse mail voting, 16 days of early in-person voting prior to the general election, and Election Day voting, according to Raffensperger.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Georgia and nationwide, he urged his fellow Republicans to stop spreading misinformation about mail voting and to instead embrace the process if they want to keep up with Democrats.
"I know that friends of mine, their kids are younger, who just got out of college, they've already gotten texts from the other side saying, 'Hey, do you need any help getting your absentee ballot application done?' And so our party needs to do the same thing. We need to understand that this is a very competitive state," Raffensperger said.