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Georgia's Secretary Of State Became A Lightning Rod In Nation's Vote Counting


Georgia's chief election official has faced a lot of pressure this month. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is a Republican, has had to push back against baseless claims of fraud and misconduct from people within his own party, including the president. That was after Joe Biden flipped Georgia, winning the state by about 13,000 votes. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler brings us this profile of one of the most influential public officials in this election.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: For Brad Raffensperger, the 2020 election wasn't supposed to be like this. The secretary of state knew there would be record turnout, close margins and high stakes to perform after a rocky primary. But the death threats, attacks from his own party and overwhelming pressure to help President Trump win were not part of the plan. Still, the 65-year-old engineer who took office in 2019 has stayed remarkably calm.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: I love that saying that calm breeds calm, that panic breeds panic, and we're just calmly going forward and doing our job. We want to make sure that every vote is recorded correctly.

FOWLER: In the weeks since 5 million Georgians narrowly gave Joe Biden the state's 16 electoral votes, Raffensperger has been thrust into a national spotlight for defending how those votes have been counted and his support of the president. Trump and his campaign made unsubstantiated claims of absentee ballot fraud. The state GOP attacked the process behind a statewide audit. And Georgia's two Republican senators, both in a January 5 runoff, called for him to resign after unfounded claims of widespread problems. Calm may breed calm, but last week, the secretary of state started to push back in interviews.


RAFFENSPERGER: What I'd tell the candidates that are running - you'd best get at it. Quit looking back and quit trying to talk about what the secretary of state's doing. You better be worried about your own campaign.

FOWLER: Raffensperger has spent his first term modernizing Georgia's outdated election system, overseeing the largest ever rollout of new voting equipment in U.S. history. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he delayed Georgia's primaries and pushed several rule changes to make voting easier, like secure drop boxes and an online registration portal. This month's election was actually the smoothest in recent history thanks to overwhelming early voting and an average wait time of about two minutes on Election Day. So it has been frustrating for Georgia's chief election official to see the process under attack with little to no evidence to back it up. He's been cast by some as a hero for debunking misinformation and affirming Biden's victory, a villain by others for refusing to give attention to misguided concerns about election integrity. But through it all, Raffensperger said he has been focused on doing his job.


RAFFENSPERGER: And that's where, at the end of the day, the facts will, you know, win out because facts always win. And people can say what they want, but you can't argue with the cold, hard facts.

FOWLER: It's entirely likely Raffensperger will face a primary challenger in 2022 and his political career could be finished. But he has no regrets about what he's done.


RAFFENSPERGER: At the end of the day, you know, I'm going to stand on the principle of integrity. I think that it still matters.

FOWLER: The pressure for Raffensperger to keep calm and carry on will continue into the new year. A recount of Georgia's ballots for the third time in as many weeks will run through next week. After that, January's runoff elections will decide control of the U.S. Senate. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Fowler in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.