In early January 2021, then-President Donald Trump tried to persuade Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the state’s election results. Raffensperger rejected Trump’s requests as well as his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. Now, Raffensperger is facing a primary in 2022 from Rep. Jody Hice, whom Trump has endorsed for Georgia secretary of state.
In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, we continue our conversation about challenges to democracy in America by talking with Raffensperger, whose new book, “Integrity Counts,” comes out in November. He describes his experience being targeted by Trump and his supporters. Raffensperger also criticizes fellow Republicans in Georgia for not speaking out against Trump’s false claims of election fraud and for removing him as the chair of the Georgia Board of Elections this year. And he explains why he largely supports the new voting laws that Georgia Republicans passed since the 2020 election. We ask him what it all means for democracy.
You can read select, lightly edited excerpts below.
Galen Druke, host of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast: Were you or your family afraid [because of the threats directed at you after the 2020 election]?
Brad Raffensperger: I think that we’re getting concerned. Obviously, we left our house for a few days because they were talking about having a big rally up front. And that was just ginned up by people in positions of power, including the president.
GD: Have things abated on your end? Are people no longer threatening elections officials or administrators?
BR: We’re not seeing that. In the book, the last text — the sexualized texts that Tricia has gotten was probably around Easter day. In the name of Jesus — yes, in the name of Jesus — someone sent her threatening “every day that we pray for your death” …
GD: And that’s your wife? So that continued after January 6?
BR: Oh, yeah, that continued well after January 6.
GD: I know that you supported overall the election changes in Georgia this year. But those laws included making you no longer chair of the state election board, which is responsible for overseeing elections in Georgia. That chair is now selected by the state legislature. Does that make Georgia’s elections more susceptible to meddling from the legislature?
BR: Well, what it really does is it diminishes accountability of the state election board right now.
GD: Well, accountability for potentially doing screwy things?
GD: Why even do this?
BR: Well, and that’s one aspect that I did not support. Because when the secretary of state chairs the state election board, I am held accountable by the voters. And so I understand that I report to the voters. Now the chair of the state election board actually reports to the General Assembly. So if you don’t like the decision that’s being made, who do you call? How do you have accountability? It’s so diffuse that everyone can start pointing fingers and it becomes like Washington, D.C. “Oh, I didn’t do that. It was this person, it was that person…” How do you hold anyone accountable? But when the state election board is chaired by the secretary of state, like it has been since the beginning of time here in Georgia, then all of a sudden, you know that you have accountability.
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GD: Did you view that as personal retribution?
BR: Oh, yeah, [inaudible]. You know it was. It was really a blame-shifting. People didn’t know who and what had happened, and no one wanted to take responsibility and really speak truth to everyone and say here are the facts: President Trump did not get any votes from 28,000 voters. They skip. 28,000 people skip the presidential ballot.
GD: Why won’t Republicans in Georgia speak that truth?
BR: Moral courage. Lack of moral courage. And General Patton said that is probably one of the most lacking aspects of humankind.
GD: I mean, that’s a pretty big indictment of the Republican lawmakers in your party, that they lack moral courage. Does that make you question whether it’s the party for you?
BR: Oh, no, it doesn’t. It’s both parties. And we have to be honest about that. People don’t stand up on the left side to a lot of the diatribes that they hear from their hard left, and people don’t want to stand up to the hard right. I’m a capital-C conservative. But sometimes you have to say to people, I think with kindness and gentleness, but you need to speak the truth.
GD: In some sense, it sounds like there are tradeoffs in terms of the way that election and voter laws get written. In Georgia, for example, Republicans had originally proposed doing away with mail voting for no-excuse absentee voting. They also were thinking of banning voting on Sundays, which is, of course — a lot of the Souls to the Polls programs function on Sundays because that’s when people go to church. And that specifically applies to Black Georgians in particular. Do you understand why Democrats had such a negative response to this bill out of the gate when provisions like that were included?
BR: And as it went through the process and calmer heads prevailed, thoughtful people spoke into that, what you saw, and they also had a multitude of committee hearings, so that everyone could be heard, including Democrats, and all that stuff that you just mentioned was stripped from the bill and what came out —
GD: But where are they even going with that?
BR: Well, I think in some cases, they were really filing bills just to placate angry people. But at the end of the day, it never saw the time of day because people realized that we’re not going to go ahead and actually do some of the measures that were proposed.
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GD: Do you think that would have disenfranchised people?
BR: Well, we ended up with more additional days of early voting. We kept Sunday voting available for any county that wants to keep Sunday voting. So now, all 159 counties have to have 17 days of early voting, and any county can have Sunday voting that would like to have that. So that’s actually made it more accessible.
GD: What was going on there? Are there people in the Republican Party in the state legislature who did set out to try to make it harder for Democrats to vote at the start?
BR: There were a lot of thoughtful, solid, serious legislators that their voices were brought to bear. And what came through at the end of the day was a solid piece of legislation. And a lot of that other stuff, that chaff, was separated from the solid wheat that was proposed.
GD: Is that stuff that you would speak out against if it were ever proposed again?
BR: It died on the floor. I don’t think we’ll be seeing it again.
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