Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, earned widespread praise for his staunch defense of the election results in his state last year in the face of growing threats and pressure from former President Donald J. Trump.
As Mr. Trump spread falsehoods about the election, Mr. Raffensperger vocally debunked them, culminating in a 10-page letter addressed to Congress on Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol riot, in which he refuted, point by point, Mr. Trump’s false claims about election fraud in Georgia.
But after a Georgia judge ruled late last week that a group of voters must be allowed to view copies of all 147,000 absentee ballots cast in the state’s largest county, in yet another disinformation-driven campaign, Mr. Raffensperger voiced his support for the effort, saying that inspecting the ballots would provide “another layer of transparency and citizen engagement.”
As Mr. Trump’s election falsehoods continue to hold sway over many lawmakers and voters, with efforts to review ballots still underway in states across the country, we spoke with Mr. Raffensperger about why he supported the new review ordered by the judge and how he thinks about public trust, or mistrust, in the electoral process. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
At the risk of asking you to repeat yourself: Was there any widespread fraud in Georgia in the 2020 election?
No, there was no widespread fraud. We had, and we still do have, several hundred investigations that we’ve opened up. Many of those are procedural, but none would be significant enough to overturn the election results.
So why support this most recent order to inspect ballots?
So from Day 1, I’ve encouraged Georgians who have concerns about the elections in their counties to pursue those claims through legal avenues. Frankly, Fulton County has a longstanding history of election mismanagement that has weakened voter faith in the system.
And I’m very grateful that S.B. 202 [the state’s new voting law] strengthens the ability of the secretary of state’s office to hold counties accountable. I think that’s a good thing.
But in a letter you wrote to Congress in January, you refuted the false allegations regarding absentee ballots in Fulton County, nearly the very same claims that are a part of this lawsuit that led to the judge’s order. So what has changed?
Unfortunately, the No. 1 issue that we’re facing right now in elections nationwide is voter confidence. Now, in Georgia, it goes back to the 2018 governor’s race, when Stacey Abrams did not concede, and then in 2016, days after President Trump won, the other camp talks about Russian collusion. And so we had those aspersions cast on Trump’s victory.
But what happens each time is that voter confidence takes a hit. So whenever we can restore, or have a process that will help restore, voter confidence, I think that’s a good thing — if you have an open and transparent process in which everyone can objectively agree that this is due process that they’re doing, that they’re making sure they’re following the law.
At the end of the day, they’re going to get the same results we got after November. And then we can hopefully put this to bed.
So even though you know that the allegations in this most recent lawsuit aren’t going to come to fruition, going through another public process will help build confidence?
It’s really the process of civic engagement. Let the citizens have an open, transparent process in which other sets of eyeballs can verify what’s already been verified.
We’ve already done a 100 percent hand recount of every single absentee ballot, every single early-vote ballot and every date-of-election ballot. So all three forms of voting have been counted in Georgia. Every single one of those paper ballots has been hand-counted.
So I know the results aren’t going to change, but it just helps increase voter confidence and it helps our entire nation to move off this issue and really get back to a more stable society.
Democrats and voting rights groups have said that these repeated recounts and relitigations of the 2020 presidential contest actually undermine confidence in the election. So I’m wondering how you weigh that.
Well, at the end of the day, a Superior Court judge makes a ruling, and we follow the law in Georgia.
Many Republican voters, and especially former President Donald Trump, have continued to reject the multiple audits and recounts already carried out in Georgia and demand new investigations. What makes you think this Fulton County inspection will satisfy those who claim that there was widespread fraud?
Well, let’s follow this rabbit trail, and get the answers, and then we’ll get answers that will be very similar to what we had back when this election was carried out and we did the audit process. And we can put this to rest and we can move forward.
Georgia’s new voting law gives more power over elections to state lawmakers. Do you have any worries that this new inspection of ballots could prompt the Legislature to exert even more control over election administration?
All Georgians should take great comfort at the end of the day that we have a fair election process. We have 159 counties that are running these elections, we have 159 county election directors who have personal integrity. People need to understand that the people who are running these elections at the precinct level — those are your friends, those are your neighbors, those are your friends at church, those are your friends from Pilates, Rotary. Your kids could be on the same youth league baseball or soccer team.
The glue that holds the process together is the individual personal integrity of local Georgians, plus our office, and what I will stand for is fair and honest elections.
I wanted to ask you a little bit about your re-election bid next year. You’re running against Representative Jody Hice, a Republican congressman whom Mr. Trump has endorsed. Are you worried about Donald Trump attacking you and actively working to ensure your defeat?
No. We’re going to run our campaign on issues. At the end of the day, we believe that integrity counts. And we’ve done an awful lot to improve the election process in Georgia.
The first thing we did was pass House Bill 316, which allowed us to procure new voting machines that use verifiable paper ballots. For 18 years, people were talking about needing a system with paper ballots; I accomplished that.
Also, we made progress toward joining the Electronic Registration Information Center [a nonpartisan, nonprofit multistate voter roll database]. So as we updated our voter rolls, we could do it objectively. We also outlawed ballot harvesting. So we’ve been working on election integrity for a long time.
Congressman Hice, though, he’s been up in D.C. for over six years, and he has never introduced a single piece of electoral reform legislation. He’s never done anything on election integrity, ever. And now he thinks it’s somehow an interesting issue for him to run on? That’s the challenge sometimes with congressmen. Some of them don’t do much when they get up there.
One of the things Mr. Hice did do was vote in Congress to overturn the election results. Do you have any concern that someone who had previously taken steps to overturn a free and fair election could one day run elections in Georgia?
Well, if you’re honest with yourself, he’s a double-minded person. In Georgia, he accepted the results for his race, but he didn’t accept the results for President Trump’s race. How can you hold two opposing views at one time? So he’s going to have to live with his vote on Jan. 6.
Echoing Mr. Trump’s election lies has almost become a litmus test in Republican primaries. How do you run in this environment?
I’m going to run on integrity, and I’m going to run on the truth.
When was the last time you spoke with Mr. Trump? Was it the call in January in which he urged you to “find” him votes that became public soon afterward?
Have any of his allies contacted you or other Republicans in Georgia in the last few months to urge you to conduct a recount or review along the lines of Arizona’s?
Not that I’m aware of.
OK. Last question. We spent a lot of time earlier talking about how faith in elections is damaged. How do you think we restore bipartisan, national faith in elections?
I think perhaps we need to have a national dialogue, or a bipartisan meeting of the minds. Because S. 1 and H.R. 1 [two versions of congressional Democrats’ major voting rights bill] are a top-down, federal takeover of elections, and of course you’re going to see pushback from the Republicans, and rightly so. And I’ve spoken out against those.
We really need to look at what can we accomplish that makes sure that we restore the trust of all voters from both sides of the aisle, make sure that we have honest and fair elections, that results are accurate.
Candidates need to understand their job is to turn out voters, and if they don’t turn out enough voters, they will lose the election, and they have to accept the will of the people.