Georgia’s secretary of state is a man on an island, and the political flood is rising fast, as President Donald Trump and his allies complain that the fellow Republican’s mismanagement tainted the state’s presidential election.
The secretary shot back against these accusations, called Rep. Doug Collins, who is running Trump’s Georgia recount effort, a “liar,” and says South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called him in an apparent effort to pressure him to improperly discard ballots. Graham dismissed the allegation as “ridiculous.”
The current battle is a switch for Raffensperger. The 65-year-old, bespectacled engineer spent most of his first two years in office taking abuse from Democrats, who filed lawsuits alleging that Georgia, under then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, engaged in illegal voter suppression in 2018. Kemp, the Republican candidate who narrowly won the governorship over Democrat Stacey Abrams that year, denies the claims.
Also left in Raffensperger’s lap was a breakneck race to replace Georgia’s outdated voting machines in time for 2020 — an undertaking complicated in its closing stretch by the coronavirus pandemic.
Through it all, Raffensperger — currently in quarantine after his wife tested positive for coronavirus — has insisted he’s an impartial administrator of Georgia elections with no desire or agenda to sway the outcome.
“The secretary of state has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections,” GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — both of whom failed to win enough votes to avoid January runoffs with their Democratic opponents — said last week in a statement, without offering any evidence to back up their assertion. “He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately.”
Not shying away from the fact that he’s a Republican, Raffensperger has said publicly that he wished Trump had won. But he’s also held firm in saying that he has seen no evidence of widespread fraud or voting irregularities — and that he expects Biden’s 14,000-vote lead to hold up once the audit is complete.
A few Republicans have publicly supported him.
“From the standpoint of what I’ve seen, there just is no widespread fraud in the election process leading up to the general election,” said Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican who served two terms in the U.S. Senate.
Before winning statewide office, Raffensperger made a fortune in engineering and won election in 2011 to the city council in the affluent Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek.
“There’s no hidden agenda,” said Ivan Figueroa, who served on the council with Raffensperger. “He speaks his mind straight. You can trust what he says.”
In 2014 Raffensperger won election to the state legislature. In 2018, when Kemp opted to run for governor, Raffensperger successfully ran to replace him, defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow.
Raffensperger’s biggest task has been to roll out a new voting system purchased from Dominion Voting Systems that cost more than $100 million.
The new equipment got a rocky rollout during a June primary that was blemished by hours-long waits, in part because the COVID-19 pandemic shrunk the number of polling places and workers.
November’s vote was smoother, with most people voting before Election Day after Raffensperger set up an online system for requesting mail-in ballots.