Opinion: Ga. doesn’t need baseless accusations

11/06/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during an election update briefing at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/06/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during an election update briefing at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Latest low blows by both of Georgia’s U.S. senators and others further erode our constitutional foundations of self-governance.

Even in an election year where standards of fair play seem to plummet with each passing day, Monday’s attack by Georgia’s U.S. senators marked a new low.

Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue called on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign, alleging that he had “failed the people of Georgia” and “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections.”

Those are shocking charges for this pair to level at the person – and the office – responsible for overseeing elections here. They’re even more stunning, given that Perdue and Loeffler fired their broadside against a fellow Republican – not that party affiliation should count when the integrity of a core democratic institution is under attack.

How have Raffensperger & Co. somehow “failed” at honesty or transparency?

Good question.

Perdue and Loeffler offered no specifics, at least not for the record. And that is what should make their campaign-speak attack message so unacceptable to fair-minded Georgians.

Specific, actionable allegations based even somewhat loosely in facts can be assessed and investigated. Which is appropriate.

Hyperbole and sly accusations cannot.

Reckless barely begins to touch on what Perdue and Loeffler have done. Without presenting reasons, they have assaulted Georgia’s election system. That is dangerous behavior in this tense moment, both for this state and for the nation that is watching this risky sideshow.

In past editorials, this newspaper has at times been critical of Raffensperger’s management of aspects of the elections system he is charged with overseeing. Too many election hardware glitches is one thing. It’s improperly far beyond that to allege that, under Raffensperger, Georgia “has failed to deliver honest” elections

We’ve seen no evidence of that. In an AJC interview Monday, Raffensperger said, “What people really want at the end of the day — I think both sides should desire honest, fair elections. That’s what we’ve been working for.”

We’ve also weighed in on issues around Georgia’s 2018 election that we believe helped get us to this present place. In a contest that saw the closest vote for governor in half a century in Georgia, Kemp’s opponent, Stacey Abrams, refused to concede in a race narrowly decided by about 55,000 votes.

It’s not hard to see in hindsight that Abrams' decision around the election’s result is now a tactic being applied from the White House on down.

As we’ve said before, too, Gov. Brian Kemp left us open to this result. Kemp would not step down from his job as secretary of state while running for higher office in 2018. That meant he oversaw an election in which his name was also on the ballot.

That decision had the expected effect.

As we wrote in an editorial after that 2018 election, “It’s not hard to see why Democrats see this as an unacceptable conflict of interest. At the very least, candidate Kemp’s staying put during the race contributed to significant doubts about the fairness of the election he was charged with conducting. Georgia could have done without this problem.”

The 2018 voting tally stood in Georgia, despite assertions of voter suppression. Since then, Georgia has rolled out new electronic voting machines that produce paper ballots which are scanned to tabulate results. The new system seems to have, tacitly at least, acknowledged some of Democrats' concerns about the integrity and security of ballots.

We have also offered our opinions on problems in getting the new vote-counting system up to speed, including serious malfunctions in too many places during the June primary.

Since then, state and local election officials appear to have fixed the most-serious deficiencies. From all appearances, the November election – and its record turnout – appears to have proceeded far more smoothly and competently. And no verified instances of widespread fraud have surfaced so far.

Today’s incessant partisan fighting has weakened our democracy’s systems and fed a now-rampant and corrosive distrust of government – and of each other. The latest low blows further erode the constitutional foundations of self-governance.

It’s frightening for freedom to envision a Georgia or America in which such stunts are quickly absorbed by many as near-gospel truth.

Meek acceptance of charges without facts should be unacceptable for a country of proudly stubborn, liberty-loving people, many of whom have fought or even died for freedoms that include the right to make up our own minds in choosing our elected officials.

Loeffler and Perdue are far from alone in this season of rock-throwing at American civic norms and common decency. Their attack seems directly crafted to appeal to core supporters of President Donald Trump who has, so far, refused to acknowledge the reported results of this month’s election. And too many other political leaders, in Georgia and elsewhere, have joined in this wrongheaded campaign to cast accusations against election results they dislike.

We realize Perdue and Loeffler now find themselves beginning the next, sure-to-be-brutal rounds of political battles that will continue until January’s runoff election. Given that Georgia is now a state in play, it is to be expected that both Democratic and Republican candidates will be much more aggressive in their bids for office.

Even so, there must be standards of ethical behavior that dictate lines of appropriateness – and those lines should not be breached.

Throughout America’s history, many hard-fought political brawls have been conducted without trampling boundaries of acceptable conduct.

As we have said many times before, Georgia is an influential state. Our economic strengths have long been recognized by the rest of the nation and world. Our political importance is likewise gaining prominence, especially as Republicans and Democrats fight hard for dominance here.

Politics is about nothing if not vigorous competition. Done ethically, a robust pursuit of votes can help citizens make choices. The latest inappropriate lobbing of thin accusations at election officials is nowhere near that.

Perdue, Loeffler and others should know that. We believe fair-minded Georgians already do.

The Editorial Board.

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