We will never know exactly why Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) refused former President Donald Trump’s request to “find 11,780 votes” following the 2020 election. Maybe it was simply an impossible task. Perhaps he was unwilling to commit treason. It certainly wasn’t because he did not support the former president or his views on voter suppression.
After certifying the 2020 election results, Raffensperger told CNN: “I wish he would have won, and especially in Georgia. I certainly cast my vote for him.”
As for voter suppression, Raffensperger has consistently supported measures that disenfranchise Georgians and restrict their right to vote. He has prioritized voter purges since he first took office in 2019. He proudly defends the massive voter suppression law Georgia enacted in 2021.
During his Senate runoff victory speech in December 2022, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) described how “officials in our state tried to block Saturday voting.” The senator was referring to Raffensperger.
Now safely re-elected to another term, Raffensperger is taking his voter suppression campaign national. He recently wrote a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) asking for his help.
The letter begins by imploring the speaker to remain “steadfast” in opposing a “federal takeover of elections.” It is safe to say that, even without this letter, McCarthy is unlikely to support the Freedom to Vote Act. Then, Raffensperger, in the very next sentence, asks McCarthy for the speaker’s “support for a set of reforms to current national election law.”
So much for federalism.
Raffensperger saying that he wants to “reform” elections is like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) saying that he wants to “reform” public school libraries. We all know what kinds of reforms those are.
Raffensperger’s first suggested reform is to make voter purges easier. Seriously, his number one election concern is that too few people are being kicked off state voter registration lists. His “reform” is to make mass voter purges easier.
It turns out that purging Georgia voters has been an obsession of Raffensperger for years. In 2019, his first year as secretary of state, he purged 309,000 individuals — 4% of all Georgia voters. Two years later, in 2021, his office purged another 100,000 voters.
Raffensperger is so fond of voter purges that he wants private actors to get into the action.
When Republican election vigilantes tried to remove over 364,000 voters from the rolls before the 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia, Raffensperger did nothing to stop them. Instead, after the election he supported a new law that made it easier for private citizens to submit mass challenges to voter eligibility and more difficult for counties to reject them. The result? An additional 92,000 Georgia voter registrations were challenged last year.
Raffensperger’s next “reform” is to advocate for a national strict photo ID to vote law. Already, 35 states require some form of ID to vote. According to Raffensperger, the vast majority of those laws are insufficient and need to be toughened. States like Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas all have ID laws that Raffensperger would consider too permissive. Raffensperger’s proposal would also require strict photo ID to vote laws for “all modes of voting” — a code word for mail-in voting.
Next on Raffensperger’s list of election reforms is a national ban on third-party ballot collection, which he derisively calls “ballot harvesting.” For many poor communities that are underserved by the U.S. Postal Service, third-party ballot collection is the only realistic way to vote. Native American voters are often the hardest hit by ballot collection bans, but they are not alone. Hispanic, Black and young voters also rely heavily on the practice in many parts of the country.
Curiously, Raffensperger seems to overstate the scope of Georgia’s current ballot collection law — a law he claims was one of his first priorities after he was elected. In his letter to McCarthy, Raffensperger writes that “No one should get between the voter and the ballot box.” Yet, unlike some other states, Georgia does not prohibit all forms of ballot collection.
Georgia allows, for example, relatives and household members to collect and deliver completed ballots. Also, unlike many other states, Georgia law does not place a numerical limit on the number of ballots that one person may collect and deliver. While the Georgia law is restrictive, it is not as categorical as his letter suggests.
Nor is ballot collection a problem in Georgia. In 2022, the state election board — of which Raffensperger is a member — voted unanimously to dismiss three claims of illegal “ballot harvesting” as baseless conspiracies stemming from the 2020 election. The board that ruled in these cases was composed of three Republicans and one Democrat.
In his letter to McCarthy, Raffensperger next turns his attention to the relatively noncontroversial topic of “risk-limiting audits.” Oddly, he acknowledges in his letter that most states already provide for such audits. Indeed, more than 35 states require some type of post-election risk-limiting audit.
While his letter fails to make clear what exactly he wants Congress to require, it is worth noting that in 2020 Raffensperger abused his role in overseeing such an audit by expanding a limited audit into a full statewide hand recount. He did this to appease Trump and his supporters.
Raffensperger’s final election reform is the kind of demagoguery that we routinely expect from Republicans. He proposes a constitutional amendment to ban noncitizens from voting in all U.S. elections.
Raffensperger knows that noncitizen voting poses no threat to our country. He knows that noncitizen voting in federal elections is already prohibited by federal law. He knows that amending the U.S. Constitution requires passage by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and 38 state legislatures. He knows that this will never happen.
But Raffensperger also knows that in today’s GOP, stoking fears of foreigners is good politics and he can vilify the handful of municipalities that have recently experimented with allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections. Make no mistake: For this proposal, the cruelty is the point.
If there was any doubt where Brad Raffensperger stands on voting rights, he has put it to rest. He is in lockstep with the Republican Party. He is not trying to improve voting; he is trying to make it more difficult because he believes that it will help Republicans in the future.
Raffensperger’s approach may be more polite than the vulgar tactics Trump employed in 2020, but his goal is the same: limiting voting rights so that Republicans can win. Raffensperger is no hero; he is just another Republican vote suppressor.