Elections Government Politics

Georgia’s Secretary of State Embraces Integrity and Fair, Honest Elections in Visit to West Hartford

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spoke at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, spoke at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford on Tuesday night.

By Ronni Newton

What people want is fair and honest elections, a quiet voice of reason and not screaming and hollering, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told a crowd of about 100 people at Hartford Golf Club on Tuesday in an address, followed by a Q&A, that was appropriately timed as an unofficial prelude to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address later in the evening.

Dr. Larry Lazor, a West Hartford resident and moderate Republican who challenged U.S. Rep. John Larson in Connecticut’s 1st District race last November, and his wife Felicia, hosted Raffensperger for a discussion entitled “Maintaining Trust and Integrity in Our Electoral System.” He was already scheduled to visit Connecticut to speak Wednesday afternoon about “The Future of American Elections” as part of the William F. Buckley Program at Yale University.

Dr. Larry Lazor. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“I think that both political parties are at the end of their cycle, both political parties are looking for the ‘next great one,'” Raffensperger said. And in the meantime, he said, the United States is very polarized, and has been for several years.

When the engineer, turned businessman, turned politician, a lifelong Republican who previously served in the Georgia House of Representatives, first ran for the secretary of the state position, he wanted to update and modernize Georgia’s voting system, to change the voting machines and ensure the accuracy of the state’s voter rolls. Georgia joined ERIC – the Electronic Registration Information Center – a nonprofit run by its member states (Connecticut is one of 32 member states) dedicated to improving the accuracy of voter rolls by sharing registration information between those states.

Georgia – which has early voting – was in the middle of its primary when everything shut down due to the pandemic. But the steps they took to keep the process going led to record turnout of more than 5 million people for the November 2020 election, with wait times averaging no more than two minutes.

President Trump was ahead for a few days in November 2020 as the absentee ballots were being counted, Raffensperger said, but the Democrats had been more aggressive in getting people to vote by absentee ballot. “And finally it flipped and showed that now-President Biden had carried the State of Georgia.”

Georgia, he said, was “a reliably red state,” just as Connecticut has been predominantly in control of the Democrats for years. “It was a shock to my system,” said Raffensperger, who said he personally voted for Trump both in 2016 and 2020, and was one of his early supporters.

What happened in Georgia in November 2020, however, didn’t involve any impropriety with the election that led to Trump losing the state. What did happen, Raffensperger said, was that 24,000 people skipped the presidential election but voted down-ballot. There were 33,000 more votes for Republican congressional candidates than there were for Trump, and 6% more voters for Republican candidates in the State House.

And while there were rumors of fraud, Raffensperger said that what actually happened at State Farm Arena on election night in 2020 was that absentee ballot counting had initially stopped for the night, and the ballots were locked up and put away, but then he asked for the counting to continue for a few more hours so the boxes were pulled back out. Allegations were based on a “misleading excerpt”– a video showing empty ballot boxes and then the boxes being pulled out, but the video left out everything that happened in between, Raffensperger said. Everything that actually happened was on the complete video surveillance security tape, and was certified by investigators, and the FBI.

When Trump called Raffensperger and asked him to change the results – a call that was recorded – Raffensperger refused. He stood by the results and the integrity of the state’s election process.

“All the people that are Democrats like what I was saying,” Raffensperger said Tuesday, but he’s pushed back on allegations of fraud from both parties. He said when he took office in January 2019, there were nine lawsuits sitting on his desk from allies of Stacey Abrams alleging that the election she had lost by 55,000 votes had been stolen from her.

“We’ve been pushing back the myth of voter suppression and stolen election claims and neither one of them are supported by the facts,” he said. “We proved in a court of law that there is no voter suppression in Georgia.”

What people want is fair and accurate elections, and short lines, Raffensperger said, much of which is achieved through Georgia’s SB 202, the Election Integrity Act of 2021.

There are some differences between voting in Georgia vs. in Connecticut. Georgia has 17 days of early voting, and while Connecticut voters approved early voting last fall, the legislature still needs to decide how it will work. “We like early voting because it gives people the opportunity to vote and relieves the pressure on the counties that administer our elections in Georgia,” Raffensperger said.

All forms of voting in Georgia require use of photo ID – a driver’s license or one of seven other forms of acceptable identification. The signatures are captured, and verified.

Georgia also has observers.

“The real problem in America now – it’s the word integrity,” he said. You have to walk the line, and make sure you follow the law and honor the Constitution. “And if we don’t do that, I think we miss the essence of what it is to be an American.”

Raffensperger said the facts are on his side. “I did my job and I made sure we had a fair and honest election.”

For the past year and a half he’s been sharing his story. When he started speaking to groups, it was Kiwanis and Rotary that invited him to speak – organizations that are known for pulling together in support of a common interest.

The crowd at Hartford Golf Club – which included Republicans as well as Democrats and unaffiliated voters – listened intently, and if they didn’t agree with Raffensperger’s opinions, they were certainly respectful in their questioning. And he was honest and respectful in his responses.

One of the questions was about absentee ballots, and how to avoid the bottleneck they cause in slowing down the reporting of election results. Raffensperger said the State Election Board gave Georgia’s counties the right to pre-scan the ballots, reserving only the final tabulation step for after the polls close. Election workers take oaths. “It’s not about the accuracy, it’s about trust,” he said.

Many of Raffensperger’s responses to questions noted the importance of trust and integrity. He’s written a book, “Integrity Counts.”

“I think the most important thing is that we have trust in the process,” he said, and when people don’t trust the outcome of elections, “it starts tearing our social fabric apart.” In 2020, it ramped up to a whole different level.

“I think we need common voices of integrity, reason, work on the facts, and just make sure we have honest and fair elections for everyone,” he said.

Raffensperger’s family was threatened after the 2020 election. Oath Keepers drove by his house.

“I think right now America is tired of screaming and hollering,” Raffensperger said, noting the forthcoming State of the Union Address. In Georgia, he said, the General Assembly isn’t separated by party and it helps them cross the aisle to find common interests.

“Vote your district, vote your conscience, but do it with grace, do it with a smile, and you can get a lot done for the people,” he said.

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