Georgia elections chief: ‘Emotional abuse’ to mislead voters about fraud
The top election official in Georgia on Wednesday raged at what he described as politicians giving false hope and ginning up anger over unsubstantiated allegations of systemic voter fraud, calling it “emotional abuse” to mislead voters into thinking that the election was stolen from President Trump.
In an exclusive interview with The Hill, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a self-described “conservative Republican,” declined to directly blame Trump for spreading baseless claims about voting machines altering ballots or “illegal” votes being counted.
But Raffensperger unloaded on Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and other GOP politicians he said were creating a dangerous environment — including threats of violence aimed at him and his wife – because he’s disputed the notion that systemic fraud was behind President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.
“There’s just people who are really angry and they’re being spun up,” Raffensperger said. “It’s really the spinners that should be ashamed for playing with people’s emotions. Politicians of both sides should never play with people’s emotions. It’s one thing to motivate people, I get that. But to spin people up and play with their emotions, it’s emotional abuse and they ought to grow up and start acting with integrity.”
The Hill pointed out that Trump, who has attacked Raffensperger as a “Republican in name only,” is responsible for spreading discredited information about voter fraud.
However, the secretary of state declined to directly criticize the president.
“I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative one, and I don’t like the idea that President Trump is not going to win,” Raffensperger said. “But at the end of the day, I want every voter to know we’re going to do our job and make sure every legal vote is counted.”
Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) have called on Raffensperger to resign, accusing him of not doing enough to root out fraud and corruption in the election process.
Perdue and Loeffler are headed to a January runoff election that will determine the balance of power in the Senate. Both GOP senators will need Trump’s base of supporters behind them to win their races, and the president has gone after Republicans he believes have not done enough to promote his claim that the election was stolen from him.
Raffensperger dismissed the criticism from the senators, saying it was driven by their need to turn out the president’s base.
“Most likely that was it,” Raffensperger said.
The secretary of state was trained as an engineer and has the countenance of a bookkeeper, with his frameless glasses and thin physique.
Now he’s at the center of a political storm over Trump’s refusal to concede and the president’s efforts to undermine confidence in the results by claiming without evidence that corrupt Democrats conspired to steal the election from him.
Republicans, many of whom are fearful of the president retaliating against them, have piled on Raffensperger. It’s been a head-spinning twist of fate for the secretary of state after Democrats accused his predecessor, now-Gov. Brian Kemp (R), of suppressing the vote in his 2018 race against Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.
Biden leads in Georgia by fewer than 14,000 votes, making him the first Democratic presidential nominee in nearly 30 years to win the once-reliably Republican state.
Once the results are certified, the Trump campaign will be able to request a recount, having finished within a half point of Biden. Recounts do not normally account for the kind of massive changes Trump would need to overcome his deficit.
Raffensperger has been conducting his own investigations to address GOP concerns of fraud.
The secretary of state ordered a forensic audit of the election machinery after Republicans claimed the company behind the systems had rigged the machines to switch Trump votes over to Biden. The machines produce a paper trail that can be tied back directly to the voter’s actions.
“It turns out the machines were accurate,” Raffensperger said. “Nothing had been flipped.”
Raffensperger also undertook a by-hand retally of the more than 5 million votes cast in the state, which should be completed this afternoon. There have been no changes in the count due to suspicious activity.
The secretary of state says his office has uncovered some isolated instances of fraud, including 1,400 people who tried to vote twice in the primary, which he described as a “failure at the poll worker level.”
He said several hundred attempted to vote twice in the general election but were thwarted.
Raffensperger said his absentee ballot fraud task force includes a U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York who found their efforts to prevent fraud “overbearing.”
“There’s not systemic fraud,” Raffensperger said.
“Not in Georgia, there’s no basis for it,” he added.
The retally has uncovered some human errors that have pushed Trump slightly closer to Biden, even if it’s not nearly enough to put the outcome in question.
In Fayette County, a memory card that was not uploaded added an additional 2,755 votes to be counted, with Trump gaining more than 400 votes on Biden in that batch.
In Floyd County, officials uncovered 2,500 ballots that weren’t scanned, moving Trump about 800 votes closer.
Raffensperger said these are the kinds of things that audits and recounts are designed to uncover.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “People don’t need to get upset about that. That’s why we did the audit.”
Raffensperger made waves this week for claiming that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called him and urged him to discard legal absentee ballots from Democratic strongholds in the state.
Graham disputed Raffensperger’s characterization of the conversation, saying he was pressing the secretary of state to investigate questionable mail ballots.
“We don’t need outside influence,” Raffensperger said.
“I don’t know what it was, but it was something — We weren’t going to go down that road,” he added. “I thought [Graham] was calling about the Senate races. I didn’t realize he wanted to talk about the presidential race.”
Raffensperger also made headlines for claiming that Trump may have inadvertently suppressed his own vote by warning his supporters against mailing in absentee ballots during a global pandemic.
He said his office has identified 24,500 Republican voters who did not vote in the general election after sending in absentee ballots for the GOP primary.
“That’s 24,500 people that left the political battlefield, and that’s the reason why President Trump actually suppressed, depressed his vote, by telling people not to vote absentee,” Raffensperger said.
The Hill asked Raffensperger if that could happen again in the special Senate elections, given that Republicans are now warning that even machine votes cannot be trusted.
“We’re trying to dispel that lie, that rumor,” he said. “These machines are accurate.”
Raffensperger warned Republicans that Democrats are already flooding their base with information on how to request absentee ballots in preparation for a special election in which the mail vote will play a critical role.
“The Republican Party needs to get at it and make sure they do the same thing,” Raffensperger said. “You have to fight fire with fire. That’s a lawful process and we need to really get at it and get our ground game going.”