ATLANTA — As he ramped up his bid for re-election last year, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had a problem: His fellow Republicans did not want to hear from him.
After the 2020 election, Raffensperger angered former President Trump by rebuffing his entreaty to “find” more votes for him in Georgia, a longtime red state that he had narrowly lost. The clash turned him into a GOP pariah, and even other Republicans on the outs with Trump, including Gov. Brian Kemp, kept their distance.
So when local GOP groups made it clear they weren’t interested in his pitch, he told the Boston Globe, he went to Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs instead. Sometimes he thought of Jim Carrey in the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber, whose optimistic response when he is told there is only a one-in-a-million chance that he’ll end up with the woman of his dreams reminded him of his own persistence with Republicans: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
Last week, Raffensperger decisively beat a Trump-backed primary opponent, Representative Jody Hice of Georgia, by nearly 20 percentage points. It is a remarkable story of political survival and one that could prove instructive for other candidates who have drawn Trump’s ire and will face voters later this year, including Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Trump is alleging fraud in the Georgia primary through his political organization, without providing any evidence for the claim.
In a wide-ranging interview, Raffensperger talked about fighting disinformation, Trump and the threats his family faced in the wake of the 2020 election. The interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
How do you think you won?
We recognized that after the election of 2020 that there are a lot of people that were still believing the misinformation, disinformation. So I began a process of just going out and talking to people. I traveled all over the state and drove well over 40,000 miles in a year, just visiting people.
It was just really talking to people and explaining to them: This is what happened in the election of 2020. And the key point I always mentioned up front was that 28,000 Georgians skipped the presidential race and yet voted down-ballot. And all the Republican congressmen got 33,000 more votes combined than President Trump. They’d never heard that. And they never had thought about that. They understood pretty much immediately what that meant. That explains how President Trump came up short on his 12,000 votes.
I went through all the [fraud] allegations that were raised, and how that wasn’t true. I gave them details. Many people still had hung on to that myth from the State Farm Arena where they were counting absentee ballots on election night. But what happened was that Rudy Giuliani’s team sliced and diced the video, then narrated a false sequence, and put that on the State Senate meeting, and then it got on the national airwaves.
Then I told them about the Election Integrity Act of 2021. We lost an All-Star game over it. It really hasn’t decreased any voter’s ability to vote, but also has elevated security.
You’ve said that the experts and pundits got your race wrong. But do you think that members of your own party also got it wrong? Nobody would endorse you, or at least very few people would.
So much of what drives people is fear. And we shouldn’t be a fear-based society. So many people just were afraid of what it could possibly do to them. I think we need to really lean into our values at all times and just get back to values of character, integrity, honesty and civil discourse.
What responsibility do you think election administrators like yourself have, particularly Republican ones, in the face of lies about a stolen election? Have Republican elected officials been living up to those responsibilities over the past two years?
Anyone that’s involved in elections, your compass is due north, and you don’t deviate from it. What are the rules? What are the laws? We follow those. Yes, you vote, and I vote on my side of the aisle, which is the Republican side. When you are involved in elections, from the poll worker, to the county election official, you just set your compass due north and you just follow the law, and you follow the Constitution, let the legislators legislate and, then let those laws be signed into place.
You talked about how the election wasn’t stolen, but you also premised your campaign on the idea that elections needed to be tightened up. You talked about photo ID for absentee ballots instead of signature matching, citizenship checks, audits. Were you indulging the narrative that there was a problem?
No, because I always felt [those were important]. Four years ago I had a stump speech… Number one was always making sure only Americans vote in our elections. And then we talked about having verifiable paper ballots. And then making sure that we have the same type of identification for all kinds of voting, so that every voter is treated the same.
So for some voters, you were convincing them, with the argument of, “Hey, 28,000 people didn’t pull the lever for president?”
You can’t argue with that. Right? You can just go look at the website. All the data is there. My wheelhouse is data points.
Do you think you did get votes from people who still don’t believe it? Who still harbored doubts about 2020?
I may have, I don’t know, you’d have to interview them. I’m just really grateful for the support. It means a lot to us. Because what they’re really saying is that they trust me, and I want to make sure I always have the people’s trust.
President Trump made it clear that he dislikes you, that he really did not want you to win. He said terrible things about you. Was it weird to try to appeal to his base for re-election?
I just put my head down. And do my job.
But you had to go to the same voters who like him and say, ‘Hey, can you send me back?’
It is what it is. But you have to understand I’ve been in the construction business for a long, long time. I’ve been chewed out by the best of them. I’m used to loud voices barking at me. In my role here, my job is to not respond in-kind and just to get the job done, make sure we follow the law and follow the Constitution.
It wasn’t just the former president who had a loud voice barking at you. Your family received terrifying threats. Did you ever think of quitting? How did you endure that? And what’s your advice to other election officials who are, or perhaps will, endure the same thing?
This will pass. You can’t stay angry forever. People move on at some point. And you just have to really make sure and have the humility to look at everything that happened in, for example, the 2020 election, to look at every detail.
As an elected constitutional officer, I’m held to a much higher standard than what anyone just says out there on their social media posts. I do not have the luxury of not being factually correct.
There’s been talk of Democrats pulling Republican ballots to help you – do you think that helped you in this race? And did you try to court that support in any way?
No, I never tried to court Democrats. I just go out there and state the facts. Many of the people that may have voted Democrat in the past are really lost Republicans. In other words, they left us because the message that they were hearing wasn’t attractive to them anymore. We have to make sure that we will always have a coalition, like Reagan did. I believe I’m showing people the model of how you grow your party back.
There are people running for Secretary of State—in Arizona, Mark Finchem, or in Michigan, Kristina Karamo —who say the 2020 election was stolen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, does as well. Does it worry you that figures like this are running to have the same power that you have over elections in other states? Is that bad for the system?
Well, I’m Secretary of State in Georgia, and my focus is what happens in Georgia. So I’m gonna let the good people of other states decide who they want their elected public servants to be.
Have you heard from Trump since you since you won?
No, I haven’t heard from a lot of people since I’ve won. I’ve heard from a lot of other people since I’ve won and so it’s all good.
Do you worry that the persistence of this belief that Trump has worked so hard to stoke—that the election was stolen—is bad for democracy?
I think that bit by bit, people are figuring it all out. And bit by bit, people are moving on to other issues. My job is making sure we have fair and honest elections in Georgia.