Brad Raffensperger: ‘I haven’t talked to Trump. I don’t expect that’ll happen’

·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Ron Harris/AP</span>
Photograph: Ron Harris/AP

Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s top election official, was sitting at his kitchen counter with his wife, Tricia, in early January, his cell phone on a metal stand so he could take notes. On the other line was Donald Trump, who had lost Georgia to Joe Biden in November, a result confirmed by multiple recounts.

The president had a blunt and unimaginable request for Raffensperger: find enough votes to flip the results of the election in Georgia.

Raffensperger, a mild-mannered engineer by training, refused to go along with the president’s request, but saw it as a threat, he writes in his new book Integrity Counts.

He and his family have since been subject to a barrage of harassment, including death threats, from Trump and his supporters. Republicans in the Georgia state legislature have stripped him of his role as the chair of the state election board. Now, he’s running for re-election next year in what is expected to be an extremely difficult primary for him, in a field that includes at least one candidate, endorsed by Trump, who tried to overturn the 2020 election results.

The Guardian spoke to Raffensperger about the January phone call with Trump, threats to election officials, and whether he thinks there’s a place in the Republican party today for officials who resist attempts to undermine the 2020 election results.

Have you talked to Trump since that January call? Do you expect to ever talk to him again?

No, I haven’t talked to him, and don’t expect that’ll happen in the future.

Were you scared in the moment of [the phone call]? You have the president of the United States, the leader of your party, in a very heated environment in the days after the election, pressuring you to do something that could affect whether he serves another term. And did you ever doubt yourself in what you were doing?

I wanted to make sure that we had all the facts. That we weren’t missing something. Our team was continuously asked by me: “What about this? What about that?” And so we ran down every single allegation. Then I sent a letter to Congress, it’s a 10-page letter, which I put in the book – they got it on 6 January and I know they were busy with other things. But it really goes through, point by point, every single allegation that was made.

I understand my side is grieving and has difficulty understanding this, but 28,000 people, 28,000 Georgians, did not vote for anyone for president. They skipped that and yet they voted down-ballot. And when I give those three data points to Republicans it starts to really dawn on them, they start to understand that there was [tail-off] at the top of the ticket.

But people are still talking about the ballots that were stuffed in the suitcase and whatever else. People don’t seem to be persuaded by facts.

I think that everyone is best served when they have intellectual honesty. And to get intellectual honesty you have to have intellectual curiosity. That you actually want to uncover the facts and have the courage to actually look into it and maybe have your paradigm shifted and challenged because what you’ve been told has been wrong.

At some point, I know that if I was lied to by all these people, and they know that they’ve been lying to people, I think that they may rise up in anger and really understand that they’ve been played.

Does it worry you to see the Republican party flirting with these claims, and in some cases not disavowing them and even embracing them?

Well, let’s be fair and balanced. It bothers me that both parties are doing that. Because Stacey Abrams was in Virginia less than three weeks ago, and she said “just because you win doesn’t mean you’ve won”. Her narrative of voter suppression has been parroted by many people, from Hillary Clinton to many other notable national figures. (Note: Abrams has strongly repudiated attempts by Raffensperger and others to equate her decision not to concede Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.)

So it’s actually both sides are guilty of this. And both sides need to pull back, stop, and walk that line of integrity. When you walk that line of integrity, then you can start rebuilding trust.

Are you continuing to get threats?

Every once in a while, now that the book’s out, you get a text or a voicemail. It’s people that really don’t want to know the truth and don’t want to dig into the truth. I understand where they’re coming from. They’re not happy with losing an election. They’re not happy with the direction of the country and they’re not pleased probably with President Biden. There’s a lot that’s happened in the last year under his leadership that is very disappointing and alarming.

Are you concerned about experienced election officials leaving their jobs?

I’m concerned that we have seen in Georgia, probably less than a handful of county election directors leave, retire a little bit early.

And so you hate to see that happen. And you just hope they’ll have a team in place that’ll pick up that mantle and lead with strong leadership.

I wanted to ask you a little bit about the provisions of Georgia’s new election law that dealt with your authority specifically on the state elections board. How concerned are you about efforts to give legislatures in Georgia and elsewhere more control over the bodies like the state elections board and election administration?

I’ve always believed that these boards should be held accountable to the voters.

If you look in Georgia, the state elections board chair has always been an elected position. And so for that reason alone, I don’t believe it was wise. I believe in some point in the future, they’ll regret the decision they made. But it was made with the thought of payback, petty retribution, blame-shifting, to placate people looking for, you know, a head on a platter.

So you’re still very opposed to it?

Well it’s bad policy. I don’t support bad policy.

You’re in a competitive primary with at least one opponent who has voiced serious doubts about the integrity of the 2020 election. How concerned are you that someone could get into power that gets a call from the president or someone else and is willing to go along with the kind of thing that you weren’t willing to go along with in 2020?

I believe that Americans overwhelmingly are good, honest, people. And they’re looking for honest government. And they’re looking for people that will stand in the gap and do the right thing. And I’ve shown that I will make the tough calls to make sure that we follow the constitution, we follow state law.

I talk to Republicans. I talk to a lot of them. And yes I get dog-cussed by a few. But many Republicans support what I did. They’re disappointed in the results. They wish that the president would have won. That runs the whole gamut. But people recognize that when people do what is right, even when it can appear to be difficult, that that is really something that should be modeled and esteemed.

I’m curious what message you think it would send if people didn’t vote for that. If what you did in 2020 wound up costing you the election next year, what message would that send?

Well, people have to decide individually and corporately what they want our country to look like. And I think that Americans, as I said, the vast majority are good, honest, taxpaying, law-abiding Americans. And what they want is people who will make the right decision.