WASHINGTON — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who took the brunt of former President Donald Trump’s attacks over Georgia’s 2020 election results, said during a Friday virtual panel that he hopes election disinformation starts to dissipate.
“People weren’t questioning the (election) process before, but there was a huge disinformation campaign which really destabilized many segments of American society,” Raffensperger said during the panel, referring to his party’s conduct in reaction to 2020. “I think the challenge that we have as Republicans is that right now our party is really fractured.”
But Raffensperger’s participation in the University of California, Irvine School of Law’s Fair Elections and Speech Center forum on “election subversion” drew intense criticism from Democrats in his home state.
Georgia state lawmakers and advocacy groups argued in a letter to the panel sponsors that Raffensperger helped pass Georgia’s new election overhaul bill, SB 202, widely criticized for restricting voting rights.
“Raffensperger has cheered the initial subversion steps taken by the State Board of Elections that could result in a state takeover of the Fulton County Board of Elections, the first time a state has taken steps toward subversion,” according to the letter.
During the panel discussion, Raffensperger said that election integrity was crucial more than ever, pointing to how Trump pressed him to turn over Georgia election results, as well as the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. A mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the building over the former president’s “big lie” that the presidential election was stolen from him.
Republican-controlled states in reaction to the 2020 election have introduced and passed dozens of restrictive voting laws, including the one in Georgia.
Raffensperger added that he’s hoping far-right Republicans move on from the November election and instead focus on winning future elections rather than harassing poll workers.
“No one should ever be threatened, a poll worker particularly,” he said. “Many of those are volunteer positions. They’re doing this out of their civic responsibility, and that needs to end and we need to make sure coming into 2022 that we have safe, secure elections and people aren’t threatened with their lives.”
But the letter from his critics in Georgia said that Raffensperger is a “participant” in the very election subversion under discussion.
One of the lawmakers who signed the letter, Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat, is running for secretary of state.
“Mr. Raffensperger backed many of the provisions of Senate Bill 202, the anti-voter legislation in Georgia that pushed election subversion,” according to the letter. “The Raffensperger-supported legislation became an election subversion model for other state legislatures seeking powers to take over local elections administration.”
In response to those objections, Raffensperger argued that he stood by the bill.
He said many Democrats have objected to the bill’s emphasis on voter ID laws, but he added that many states are moving toward using voter ID laws when voting rather than using signatures to match votes.
This year alone, 18 states have passed 30 restrictive voting laws that range from making mail-in voting harder to enacting voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
More than 400 bills in 49 states with restrictive voting provisions have been introduced in the 2021 legislative sessions.
Georgia is currently known as “ground zero” in the fight for voting rights. Senate Democrats held a field hearing in the state and the Biden administration has directed the Department of Justice to sue the state over its election bill, arguing that it violated the Voting Rights Act.
Voting rights advocates and grassroot organizations are pressuring congressional Democrats to pass federal voting rights legislation to halt the new laws that many researchers say would disproportionately impact voters of color. The U.S. Senate has yet to schedule a vote on advancing the latest version of voting rights legislation.
Isabel Longoria of Texas also participated in the virtual conference. She is Harris County’s first-ever elections administrator, a non-partisan position.
Longoria said that since the 2020 presidential election, she’s received hundreds of calls from people who believe the election office is not conducting fair elections. She added that she’s helped facilitate multiple elections since then and in not one case has she received the same number of calls.
“If you really think elections are being conducted inappropriately, you would think that they were being conducted inappropriately for every election, but apparently it only matters for the November 2020 presidential election,” she said.