Bookman: Ralston’s Fulton elections letter a cynical way to stir mistrust

July 22, 2021 1:00 am

Columnist Jay Bookman writes that the letter Georgia House Speaker David Ralston sent to the Fulton County elections director feeds and nurtures mistrust. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

It takes a special kind of cynicism to piously bemoan declining faith in American elections while you actively feed and nurture that very same, destructive mistrust. It’s particularly special when you create that mistrust out of fantasies and lies, with absolutely no basis in fact.

We got yet another example of that hypocrisy last week, when Georgia House Speaker David Ralston sent a letter requesting an “independent investigation” by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation into allegations of voting fraud in Fulton County.

“Recently, media reports have surfaced which call into question the way in which Fulton County conducted, counted and audited the November 2020 Presidential Election,” Ralston wrote. “These reports have been accompanied by video and other evidence which is part of on-going litigation and requires thorough examination and explanation. Given the seriousness of this situation and the possible repercussions for our state and nation, it is time we have an independent investigation – once and for all – of the way in which Fulton County conducted, counted and audited the November 2020 Presidential Election.”

Before we get into the meat of that paragraph, it’s important to point out that Ralston did not address his letter directly to the GBI, which would presumably require some sort of evidence before initiating an investigation of its own. Nor did Ralston address it to fellow Republican and state Attorney General Chris Carr, who could officially order such an investigation. Nor did he put Gov. Brian Kemp, another fellow Republican, on the spot with such a request.

Instead, Ralston wrote the letter to Richard Barron, elections director for Fulton County, asking Barron to request a GBI investigation of his own agency. That way, when Barron refuses, it is Barron who can be blamed. Barron’s failure to request the GBI probe also provides ammunition should state officials later attempt to take over elections operations from Fulton.

As to the letter itself:

  • Note that Ralston’s letter addresses only the 2020 presidential election, not the numerous down-ballot races. If someone, somehow, manufactured thousands of ballots that voted only in the presidential race, ignoring races that Republican candidates won, that would be fairly easy to find and document, right?
  • Note that Ralston cites “media reports” of alleged wrongdoing by Fulton County. He doesn’t cite actual evidence, he doesn’t cite testimony, he doesn’t even cite the specific “media reports” in question. That’s because the alleged “media reports” all come from far-right propaganda outfits that continue to fabricate and disseminate false claims that have absolutely no basis in fact.
  • Note that Ralston raises the same groundless “questions” about videos and litigation that Rudy Giuliani tried to raise in legislative hearings after the election, “questions” that were so grounded in falsehood that they helped get Giuliani’s bar license suspended by a panel of appellate court judges in New York. “There is uncontroverted evidence that (Giuliani) communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large,” the judges ruled, citing Giuliani’s false testimony to House and Senate committees.

Ralston isn’t in danger of getting his law license suspended; he’s much cagier and more sober than the hapless Giuliani, because he raises non-specific “concerns” floating about rather than make specific charges that could be easily disproved. But his intent is the same.

In his letter, Ralston piously pretends that he’s making this request because “it is paramount to the functioning of our government that citizens … have every confidence in the veracity of the results reported,” but clearly, his request is intended to undermine that confidence. He is signaling to the Republican base that the Republican establishment shares its concern that the election might have been stolen, without actually outright saying that the election might have been stolen.

Because Ralston knows it wasn’t. He’s giving life and breath to the enemy of democracy, and that enemy is The Lie.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.