Georgia's top election official looks to shake political drama

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has lurched from one political firestorm to another over the past five months. He’s tired of the drama.

Raffensperger, in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, pushed back against critics of Georgia’s new signed voting law — a sweeping overhaul of the state’s elections system that has come under intense scrutiny from Democrats and voting rights activists in recent weeks.

But Raffensperger, a Republican, also lamented that his state has once again been placed at the center of a national political upheaval just months after it became the epicenter of former President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE’s baseless election disputes and efforts to overturn his loss to President BidenJoe BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE

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“It’s unfortunate that Georgia became the crosshairs,” Raffensperger said.

In fact, Georgia has received more than its share of national attention in recent months. In the wake of the November presidential election, Trump waged a legal and public relations war against Georgia’s elections system, claiming that widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities had cost him Georgia’s 16 electoral votes.

During that time, Raffensperger repeatedly defended the accuracy and integrity of his state’s elections — drawing the ire of Trump, who has since vowed political revenge on the Georgia secretary of State. The former president has already endorsed one of Raffensperger’s primary challengers, Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceHouse at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate Georgia secretary of state calls for Fulton County elections officials to be fired One-third of GOP candidates have embraced Trump election claims: report MORE (R-Ga.), ahead of next year’s midterm elections. 

“The election results will be the election results. Candidates have to learn that when they lose, to just accept their defeat and move on,” Raffensperger said. He has spoken critically in the past of Trump’s refusal to concede his loss in Georgia, as well as Democrat Stacey Abrams’s refusal during the state’s 2018 gubernatorial race.

“It’s almost like candidates, when they come up short, blame it on an election system problem,” he added. “And it’s really a problem of turning out your own people to win the election.”

Raffensperger also addressed his own party’s more recent political woes in Georgia. Not only did Trump lose reelection in 2020, but Democratic wins in a pair of Senate runoffs in the Peach State in January cost Republicans’ their coveted majority in the upper chamber.

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The secretary of State maintained that the chaos that emerged from the presidential election ultimately hindered former Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerHarris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up Trump says Herschel Walker will enter Georgia Senate race MORE (R-Ga.) and David PerdueDavid PerdueLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Georgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' MORE (R-Ga.) in the runoffs.

“They were caught in the middle of the maelstrom that they could never really run their race and they got caught up in all the issues around the president’s race,” Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger called for a new direction for the GOP following Trump’s presidency, pointing to the need for Republicans to grow their base.

With the 2020 election in the rearview mirror and the state legislature now out of session, “people want to have more conversations and less high-volume arguments, and want the country to move forward," he said.

“Maybe we need to look back before we look forward — to all the things Ronald Reagan did,” Raffensperger said. “The sooner we get there the sooner we start winning big.”

The latest political firestorm to engulf Georgia has surrounded its new voting law, known as SB 2020, which Republicans pushed for after last year's election. Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia Gov. Kemp says FDA needs to upgrade its authorization for vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Savannah becomes first major city in Georgia to reinstate masks MORE (R) signed the restrictions into law in March.

The measure rewrites parts of the state’s elections law in ways that Democrats and voting rights advocates argue are tantamount to voter suppression and disenfranchisement. Several party leaders, including Biden, have likened the new measures to modern-day Jim Crow laws, a comparison that Raffensperger says is “totally unwarranted.”

In particular, Democrats have expressed concern over the law’s creation of a voter ID requirement for requesting and submitting absentee ballots, as well as a provision that limits the use of drop boxes. The law also bans anyone other than poll workers from passing out food or water to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots, and gives the GOP-controlled state legislature more control over local election matters.

Raffensperger dismissed the allegations that the law seeks to limit voting access. He noted that it increases the number of days required for early voting from 16 to 17, while also pointing out that it enshrines the use of ballot drop boxes into law. They were previously used as an emergency measure in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Raffensperger also defended the new ID requirement for absentee voting, saying that it was necessary to eliminate the state’s much-maligned signature-matching requirement that relied on election workers to compare the signature on an absentee ballot to the one on a voter file.

“In Georgia, we’ve been sued by both parties about signature matching. Neither of them liked it,” he said, adding that “we’re moving from a very subjective measure to an objective measure with voter ID.” 

But Trump himself has also complained about Georgia’s new voting law, attacking it as insufficient to address his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities. In a statement issued on Tuesday night through his political action committee, Trump called out both Raffensperger and Kemp for not insisting on tougher proposals.

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Raffensperger brushed off that criticism on Wednesday, saying he was not given any say in what ultimately made it into the legislation. He did note, however, that he has been a vocal proponent of eliminating no-excuse absentee voting, a proposal also backed by Trump. SB 202 keeps no-excuse absentee voting in place.

“About whether I’m tough enough or not tough enough: I was not asked to weigh in on the bill at all,” Raffensperger told The Hill. “After the 2020 election, the Republicans thought they could handle that best.”

He acknowledged that there are parts of the new law that he does not agree with, including a provision that strips him of his role as chair of the State Elections Board and allows the state legislature to appoint a majority of the board’s voting members, including a new chair.

“Even though I don’t agree with every measure in SB 202, we will be implementing every measure,” he said.