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Georgia Secretary Of State Says New Voting Law 'Restores Confidence'

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won wide praise for firmly rejecting former President Donald Trump's false claims of voter fraud. But now that those claims have spawned tighter voting measures, the Republican state official is taking a softer approach.
Brynn Anderson
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won wide praise for firmly rejecting former President Donald Trump's false claims of voter fraud. But now that those claims have spawned tighter voting measures, the Republican state official is taking a softer approach.

In January, under pressure from Donald Trump to overturn what he baselessly called a fraudulent election, Brad Raffensperger remained steadfast. The Georgia secretary of state insisted that the 2020 election in the state was fair and secure, and that there had been no evidence of foul play to back up the former president's claims.

Now, as he throws his support behind the state's new voting law, Raffensperger apparently sees room for necessary improvement in safeguarding elections. In the face of Democratic and corporate criticism, he joins fellow Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp, in defending the measure as an overall boost for election integrity.

In an interview this week with NPR's All Things Considered, Raffensperger praised the parts of the law that add new ID requirements for absentee voting, expanded access to early in-person voting, shorter runoff period times and reduced wait times.

All four of those changes, he said, "are positive, solid, measured election reforms."

"It's really something that is a very broad-based, uniform process and is going to, I think, ensure that we have faster runoffs and making sure we have very objective measures for absentee ballots, for identification of those voters, so that it restores confidence," Raffensperger said.

The law is drawing backlash from Democrats and voting rights advocates who argue it limits absentee voting and disproportionately harms communities of color.

Some of the state's biggest companies, including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, have criticized the law, while Major League Baseball responded by pulling its All-Star Game from Atlanta.

President Biden described the law as "Jim Crow in the 21st century," likening it to the series of tactics once designed to disenfranchise Black people in the South.

In the NPR interview, Raffensperger disputed those claims, saying, "It's extremely unfortunate and distasteful" that people are casting the law that way.

"If you look at our early voting period, it's expanded now to 17 days mandatory for every county in our state and then optional two days of Sunday voting during the early voting phase," he said.

Democrats also view the reforms as an unnecessary response to last year's record turnout in which 1.3 million absentee ballots were cast. The election of two Democrats from the state to the U.S. Senate, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, handed their party control of the chamber.

Raffensperger sees the new voting law less as hasty post-election retaliation and more as a matter of timing.

"We have [a legislative] session in Georgia that starts the second week in January," he said. "It seems quickly, but ... any bills that you have, including the budget, are done in that 40-day session."

Raffensperger does have one hang-up with the new law.

The measure places a number of limits on his office. It removes the secretary of state as chair of Georgia's State Election Board, allowing the Republican-majority board to take over local election offices temporarily. The secretary, too, can no longer send out absentee ballot applications to all voters, which Raffensperger did last summer.

He calls the change to remove him as board chairman as "shortsighted."

"I'm an elected official, so whatever decisions I make as state election board chairman, I will be held accountable to the voter. Now you have an unelected board, and that unelected board is not really accountable to anyone but the General Assembly," he said. "You'll never be able to hold someone accountable. Everyone's going to be pointing fingers at each other. So, I didn't support that."

Still, he's optimistic about what he sees as a series of overall improvements.

"Also, for the first time in state law, we have now allowed absentee ballot drop boxes," he said. "So that's another good measure."

Drop boxes weren't used in the state until the 2020 election, when they were introduced as an emergency action during the pandemic. But the new law significantly limits the number of ballot drop boxes compared with last year.

Democrats say the shrinkage disproportionately affects urban areas. Fulton County, for example — Georgia's most populous county and home to much of Atlanta — will only have eight drop boxes, down from its 38 boxes in November.

But Raffensperger contests that, because that number is based on a rule of one box per 100,000 active registered voters in the county, "Every county is being treated equally the same."

Becky Sullivan and Justine Kenin produced and edited this interview for broadcast.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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