TURES COLUMN: Chat with Georgia SOS

Published 9:30 am Thursday, February 3, 2022

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“Secretary Raffensperger is interested in chatting with you on the record about some recent developments” the email said. Wow. I would get the chance to talk to the elections leader at the center of one of America’s greatest constitutional crises, facing unprecedented political pressure and even death threats. I had to know how he could handle it all.

“The peace of the Lord,” he replied. “My wife of 45 years, my great team, and integrity,” he added. He also noted how the challenges of handling controversies over the 2018 election between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams prepared him for the 2020 election disputes.

When I asked why he would even want to be the top election supervisor, his answer surprised me. He initially got into the race for issues that were more about the business community.

“I wanted to make sure Georgia would be a great place to raise a family and have a business,” he told me. He mentioned his efforts on behalf of small businesses, and reforming the annual corporation renewal fee. Small businesses would find it easier to pay over three years, instead of the annual renewal fee, and the cumbersome process of renewal if the payment lapsed.

But elections were a major point of our discussion, and he pointed to evidence that the machine counts were backed by hand-recounts, adding that the state is also upgrading its technology platform, called the Georgia Registered Voter Information System, or GRVIS, by software company Salesforce, which his office claimed would be more secure and user-friendly. Raffensperger insisted that it would be ready by Primary Day on May 22, 2022, and the runoff four weeks later. When I asked about military voting, he pointed out that military and overseas voters would get ranked-choice voting for Federal and state candidates.

We debated SB-202 as well. The Georgia Secretary of State defended the increase in early voting time, Sunday voting, no more than an hour of waiting and line, and the rules on food and water for voters, so long as they stay back 151 feet and rules on wearing advocacy clothing. We had to agree to disagree on replacing election boards. He claimed that the Senate law would make stronger election boards and make them more professional. I expressed my concerns about the partisan nature of removing election boards, and the actions of some new election boards.

Raffensperger noted that counties make the decisions when I pointed out the case of Lincoln County and the closure of nearly 90 percent of their voting locations. But how can states then tell counties what to do with election laws? Clearly something has to be done to ensure voters aren’t burdened by driving long distances…and that’s if they have a car.

Georgia’s Secretary of State was able to point out the success of his agency in running the 2020 election, with evidence backed by the data. Not only did recounts confirm this, but the conservative Heritage Foundation ranked Georgia “Number One” in their ranking of election integrity (https://www.heritage.org/electionscorecard/). “We finished first place, ahead of Alabama,” Raffensperger quipped. “Just like in football.” I checked this against a non-partisan election measure, and saw that Georgia tied with Colorado for top marks (https://bipartisanpolicy.org/report/achievable-election-reform/).

I asked Raffensperger if he had read President John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, and he said he had done so. Regardless of our disagreements about SB-202, I think Georgia’s Secretary of State and his team, like the other Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State in swing states and election supervisors, should receive the “John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award” from the Kennedy Library for ably administering the most challenging election in U.S. history.