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Jul. 2—The Department of Justice recently sued Georgia over Gov. Brian Kemp's new election law. As has been widely reported, Republicans praise the bill for securing Georgia's elections. Democrats, in turn, say it will suppress the vote.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spoke with the MDJ about the lawsuit, a recent Supreme Court decision and convincing members of his own party the results of the November presidential election were legitimate. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Senate Bill 202
Gov. Brian Kemp signed in March the "Election Integrity Act of 2021." Among the changes the bill made to Georgia's elections system are: a change in verifying absentee voters' identity (from verifying signatures to driver's license ID numbers), narrowing the window for requesting and completing an absentee ballot, codifying the use of ballot drop boxes but capping the number counties are allowed to install and expanding the number of early voting days. It also allows the state election board to temporarily suspend local elections boards in underperforming counties.
MDJ: The Justice Department alleges racial discrimination in Georgia's new elections law — but what specifically does the Department of Justice want the courts to do?
Brad Raffensperger: They're taking, I guess, shots at certain segments of the bill and question(ing) our motives. At the end of the day, we believe that when we moved away from signature match and moved towards driver's license numbers for (verification of) absentee ballot voters' (identities), that we moved from a subjective measure to an objective measure. It's currently being used in many states. One of those states is Minnesota, which is run by a Democrat secretary of state, Democratic governor, they've been using it for years. I don't believe there'll be anything that — there's nothing to that part of their lawsuit at all. It's just common sense election integrity reform measures. ... Somehow the activists in the Department of Justice, someone thought that this was a good idea, I just don't see how any part of their ... lawsuit is going to withstand scrutiny in a court of law.
Q: You mentioned voter ID — What else are they taking aim at?
A: They also took a look at or shot at providing water to people within that 150-foot zone. ... The 150-foot no politicking zone's been in place for years, before Republicans controlled the (state) House, the (state) Senate or the governorship. And what was happening in the last election particularly is, you had campaigns that were encroaching that 150-foot zone with a bottle of water but really it was to do some last-minute politicking, or, you know, voter intimidation, voter coercion. That is not allowed, and we really want to make sure that the 150 (foot) zone, that campaigns stay out of that zone.
We (in SB 202) for the first time, said: lines can't be longer than one hour. ... The afternoon of Election Day, the average wait time in the afternoon was two minutes. ... So the counties have done a great job at reducing that long wait time, but now they're required by state law to make sure it stays under an hour. And so there'll just be no need for anyone to encroach and provide water for that, but if you want to do it, do it outside the 150-foot zone.
Q: There's nothing to prevent Cobb Elections director Janine Eveler from providing water fountains, right?
A: Right. (County elections workers) can set up a table or place for people to come help themselves ... (When) election officials do it, they have signed an oath, and it's really an oath of impartiality. They're not looking left or right, they just want to run the election, and they don't want to get into the politics of it. And so that's what we're really seeing on a national standpoint, is that people are really trying to politicize election management, running of elections, and we need to make sure that (during) the actual operation of elections, to keep the politics out and let the election officials do their job.
Q: Attorney General Merrick Garland says SB 202 was, "enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color." What do you say to that statement, that the purpose of the law was to abridge the rights of certain groups to vote?
A: Absolutely false. Our office looks at every election to make sure we have the appropriate balance and accessibility with security, to treat everybody the same. And that's why ... (with) absentee voting, we've gone to a process of objectively identifying (voters) with a driver's license number. And if you don't have a driver's license number, that last four digits of your social security number. That's well over 97, 98% of all voters.
So we're really treating, now, absentee voting similar to what we do for in-person voting. And the same thing these liberal activists said when we brought in photo ID years ago ... they're saying again that somehow it's going to hurt a certain demographic group. If you look at polling, it shows that both Republicans and Democrats, across all demographic groups, like the idea of photo ID, because they know it's objective, and they know that everyone, virtually everyone, has an identification.
Q: Setting aside the intention of the lawmakers who passed SB 202 ... if an independent body were to find that the law has, in fact, depressed the vote, but particularly among Black Georgians, would that mean state lawmakers should go back to the drawing board because ... it did have that effect that the DOJ alleges?
A: Well, obviously, there'll be many research papers that will come out over the years. In fact, now there are some papers that have come out, and they show with photo ID, it has not depressed turnout. And so I think that at the end of the day you're going to find that most people have that identification. You think about, if you want to get on an airplane, if you want to go ahead and order a beer or glass of wine at any restaurant, they're going to ask you to see your identification. ... You can't go through any walk of life, particularly after 9/11, without having some form of photo identification.
Q: The Supreme Court just upheld recently-passed elections legislation in Arizona. ... Could you tell us what the Arizona law does or does not have in common with SB 202 And what the Supreme Court's decision means for the DOJ lawsuit against Georgia.
A: That (upheld) two key elements of Georgia law: in House Bill 316, we outlawed ballot harvesting. And that, in effect, was just upheld today (with the Supreme Court's decision).
Also, in SB 202 ... what we did in that bill is, we said that we wanted to make sure that you voted in your precinct. And that was upheld in the Arizona law. Our law is a bit more generous than Arizona's perhaps, because from 5 p.m. onward on election night, you can vote out of precinct. But voting in the precinct is a better way to vote, because that way you know all of your votes, your selections, are going to count — not just at the top of the ticket, but all the way down to your state (representatives), your county commissioners and all those other down-ballot races.
And what's very important that people lose sight of, (is) it really helps your county election official plan for how many voters will show up in a precinct. If your precinct is designed for 1,000, and all of a sudden your vote is now swamped with 1,500 or 2,000 people showing up voting out of precinct ... (that) makes your lines longer. So it really helps the counties from the standpoint of, really line management and (being) prepared for the right number of voters.
Q: How do you convince the Republicans who are buying into former President Trump's voter fraud argument that Georgia's elections were fair, and that they weren't fraudulent?
A: As a conservative Republican, am I disappointed in the results last year? Yes, but at the end of the day, our job is to make sure we had fair and honest elections. So when there was a rumor about over 10,000 people that were dead (who) had voted? We checked it out, there was two. When they said there was 66,000 underage people (who voted), we checked it out, there were zero. So we looked at all those different issues. When there was an allegation about absentee ballots they weren't checking the signatures (for) in Cobb County, we did a signature match study.
So we continue patiently, and I think calmly, to explain to voters, yes, I understand your disappointment but at the end of the day, you know, the ballots were what they were. And it's very important (that) we as Republicans, make sure that we turn out our base, we turn out our voters to vote in these elections because every vote does count. And when people stay at home, it doesn't turn out well, particularly as the state becomes more competitive. But at the end of the day I'm going to make sure that we run fair and honest elections. That's my job.
Q: And just to clarify, in the November presidential election, and in the runoff for the senators ... you maintain that was fair, and there was not fraud, widespread fraud in those elections?
A: There was not enough fraud — we've had over 200 investigations opened — but if you add up all those numbers, it would not have been enough, if those votes all had gone just to one person, to overturn the election. And so that's really where we are, but that's why, when your elections get so close in a state, that's why it's very important that we need to make sure that we have a very accurate vote counting system, very solid procedures in place, because it now, more than ever, is getting tighter and tighter, and we ... need to make sure we drill down and have the accuracy, and really help restore our confidence wherever we can.
Q: And you think you can convince those doubters in our election system?
A: The State Senate of Michigan, which was a three-one Republican — three Republicans one Democrat — did a thorough, deep dive on their election process. (They) issued 50-plus page report, and just calmly and factually went through it and said there was nothing to what was said. They cut through and debunked all that misinformation, disinformation in Michigan, and that ... probably even had more misinformation (and) disinformation stories than we did in Georgia. So, it is what it is. And I think the best thing that we as Republicans do is make sure we turn out our voters in November 2022.