Opinion: A principled stand where it counts

With a handful of Georgia county elections directors behind him, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election during a briefing outside of the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
With a handful of Georgia county elections directors behind him, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election during a briefing outside of the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINION

Character can be what you do when much of the free world’s watching.

It is also supporting what is right, even when subjected to sustained, wrongheaded pressure from the leader of the free world.

Those are tough tasks, and unsuited to the easily intimidated. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has shown that he’s up to the rigor of standing courageously on the side of what is proper and right. We wish that more GOP leaders would show the fortitude he has exhibited in defending principle and propriety over partisanship and party.

During an election season when it seems impossible to overuse the word “extraordinary,” few other words seem adequate to describe last Saturday’s telephone call to Raffensperger by President Donald Trump.

During that call, Trump pressed for Raffensperger to reverse the outcome of the November presidential election in Georgia.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Georgians spoke via their votes, casting a record number of ballots. By every legitimate accounting, the election was run competently and lawfully. Which should be what counts in the end, regardless of whether the president – or any other American citizen – loves or loathes the result.

Yet, Trump badgered Raffensperger to set all of that aside. “Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. We have that in spades already,” Trump said during the call, recordings of which were obtained by news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The president falsely contended that he was the victor, despite what the vote tallies decisively say. “We won this election in Georgia based on all this. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, Brad.”

Except there is, given what the president cited as decisive proof during his call – a collection of debunked conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud that have been repeatedly rejected by the courts and election officials here and elsewhere. Conclusive evidence supporting endemic voter fraud has not been produced, despite the fervent beliefs of those who are convinced it exists.

Trump told Raffensperger that “There’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ve recalculated.”

We’d argue that there is a grave wrong inherent in finding enough “votes” that do not exist to give Trump a victory that voters did not produce for him. Which is what the president asked for during his call to Georgia.

To his great credit, Raffensperger solidly held his – and the people’s – ground as Trump hammered away at him. At one point in the call, Raffensperger sounded “exasperated” during the back-and-forth.

Given what the world has heard by now, who could blame him?

Even so, his answer to the president was one befitting a public servant acting in Georgians’ – and Americans’ – best interest: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge you have is the data you have is wrong.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

Raffensperger deserves kudos from all Georgians for continuing a principled stand for what is right and firmly in line with democratic values that right-thinking people revere and that many have fought to safeguard.

In this instance, those broad principles and the election’s specific numbers stand steadfastly together. And they should be respected and forcefully defended. Even against a president who argued that, “They’re laughing at you. You’ve taken a state that’s a Republican state and you’ve made it almost impossible for a Republican to win because of cheating – because they cheated like nobody’s ever cheated before.”

During this head-shaker of a phone call, an attorney for the Secretary of State’s office, Ryan Germany, also pushed back at Trump’s false claims. “That’s not accurate, Mr. President,” Germany said. “The numbers we are showing are accurate.”

And numbers – accurate, vetted vote tallies – are what counts here. Not false bluster wrongly intended to override the expressed desire of Georgia voters.

It’s significant to note that Raffensperger, like Trump, is a Republican. Voting victories and losses aside, Raffensperger has said that he wished Trump had won here. He did not. And Raffensperger has rightly acted accordingly and in the interests of all Georgians.

That’s taken considerable guts, given the stunning behavior we’ve seen in this election cycle from elected officials who should certainly know better.

We’ll add, too, that the AJC Editorial Board’s opinions have, at times, been critical of Raffensperger’s past actions. That said, his principled actions in defense of Georgia’s election result warrant our strong support.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed that we are each measured by stands we take during times of “challenge and controversy.” We’re defined by them too. We believe history will look kindly upon Raffensperger’s actions in this instance. And that it will not be charitable toward our state’s other Republican leaders who have behaved differently.

As this week lurches toward a foreseeable close in an election that will be argued about for years to come, Raffensperger’s wise, calm and profound rebuttal to the president’s unsubstantiated claims should be remembered as well: “We believe we do have an accurate election.”

We do too.

Thank you, Mr. Raffensperger, for remaining steadfast in safeguarding the rights of Georgians and Americans.

The Editorial Board.

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