Raffensperger laments lost authority in new voting law, third group files suit

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday that he applauds the state's new absentee identification law and expanded weekend voting options approved in last week's Legislative overhaul of voting laws. The Republican state election chief also railed against claims that some of the new laws will disenfranchise Black and other minority voters. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is defending the overhaul of state election laws against voter suppression claims as several federal lawsuits attempt to overturn new rules they say make it disproportionately harder for minorities and other marginalized groups to vote. 

The state’s top election official sat down with the Georgia Recorder Tuesday to say he supports many of the measures in the sweeping GOP legislation the governor signed into law last week, including requiring an ID to cast an absentee ballot, mandating county absentee drop boxes and expanding weekend voting. 

But Raffensperger, a Republican, also acknowledged his concerns that the law could dilute the decision-making power of the secretary of state, a provision that Democratic lawmakers and voting rights advocates are criticizing as well.

Three federal lawsuits have been filed in Atlanta’s U.S. District Court since Gov. Brian Kemp signed the nearly 100-page bill last Thursday soon after state lawmakers approved the legislation along party lines. Those suits challenge the legality of the absentee ID requirement, restrictions on absentee drop boxes and disqualifying out-of-precinct provisional ballots among many new restrictions.

Republicans followed through on their pledge ahead of the legislative session to come up with new voting restrictions to restore confidence in what they said is a broken election system that caused supporters of former President Donald Trump to cast doubt about the 2020 election results.

But Raffensperger said he’ll continue to defend the election system’s integrity against the widespread fraud “lies” peddled by Trump and many of his Republican allies and also against Democrats and voter advocacy groups claiming the new laws are discriminatory.

“The problem I think (Democrats) have right now is taking a lot of orders from Stacey Abrams because she learned that if she used the word voter suppression… that was an emotional hook,” Raffensperger said during an interview inside his Capitol office.

The secretary of state also backs the state making drop boxes mandatory in Georgia counties for the first time after he helped approve their use in 2020 during an emergency rule implemented by the State Election Board in response to the pandemic.  

However, the three new federal lawsuits argue the law shouldn’t limit the number of drop boxes each county can set up and force them to be kept inside early voting locations barring a public health emergency like the 2020 pandemic. 

A lawsuit from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Georgia Muslim Voter Project and other plaintiffs asks a judge to toss out those absentee voting laws and another provision that makes it a crime for volunteers to pass out water and snacks to voters standing in lines.

Statistically, Black voters and other voters of color are more likely to have long waits at their polling places, the lawsuit says.

“The result of all of these restrictions is that you’re going to have to have more people who come out to vote in person, which is going to result in long lines,” said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s going to result in issues that may arise when the person shows up to vote but won’t have sufficient time to correct it. It’s also going to pretty much exacerbate the pressure that a lot of county election officials have already been dealing with.”

Raffensperger argued that volunteers who handed voters water during the 2020 election season sometimes crossed a line into political campaigning within 150 feet of a poll, which is prohibited. 

“What was happening was people were using that as really a way to campaign all the way as voters approached the door inside the building,” Raffensperger said.

The new law removes the secretary of state’s chairmanship over the State Election Board and hands the Georgia Legislature control of that position.

Raffensperger and the rest of the board made key decisions that expanded absentee voting last spring as the pandemic spread in Georgia that encouraged absentee voting, including sending out ballot request forms for the primary and setting rules for ballots to be cast in drop boxes.

The new chair would have voting power, which means the General Assembly can appoint the majority of the board that oversees elections.

“When you have an elected official, in this case, the secretary of state, who is accountable to the voters, every decision they make will be scrutinized by the voters,” Raffensperger said. “And that is how you have accountability. Unelected boards, commissions, authorities, that’s what they do in Washington DC, because you have blame-shifting, passing the buck and nothing ever gets done.”

Raffenspeger’s refusal to bow to demands by Trump and many of his allies to toss out the election results or overturn them in Trump’s favor put him at odds with a large contingent of his own party. Trump called Raffensperger Jan. 2 to insist he “find” enough ballots to overcome Joe Biden’s nearly 12,000-vote win.

Trump is now throwing his political clout behind U.S. Rep. Jody Hice after the Greensboro Republican announced a 2022 challenge to Raffensperger. Hice has repeatedly attributed Trump’s loss to widespread election fraud, accusations that led Raffensperger to call out Hice for working to “cynically undermine faith in our election.”

Tuesday, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit said they would continue to fight changes to Georgia’s elections he said are not needed.

“There’s no strong rationale for the justifications of election integrity that the state has been trying to rely upon to pass many of these provisions,” said Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation for NAACP Legal Defense Foundation.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.