Georgia House speaker takes aim at state’s top election official

Proposed constitutional amendment would have legislators elect secretary of state

House Speaker David Ralston said Thursday that he will seek a constitutional amendment for state legislators — not voters — to choose Georgia’s top election official, an attempt to blame Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for perceived election problems.

Ralston’s proposal came after a hearing in the state House of Representatives where supporters of Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims of illegal voting following the president’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden by about 12,000 votes.

But Ralston’s proposal would face a difficult path, and he lacks the votes to make it a reality without support from Democrats. A constitutional amendment would need to receive two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate, followed by majority approval of the state’s voters.

Raffensperger’s staff called the move “a clear power grab” following a concerted election misinformation effort featuring Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, during the daylong hearing. Both Raffensperger and Ralston are Republicans.

The strike against Raffensperger is the latest sign of a deep divide among Republicans over how to move forward after Georgia supported a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 28 years.

Raltson said he’s “dead serious” about holding Raffensperger accountable to legislators after he mailed absentee ballot applications to nearly 7 million voters before the primary election and instituted greater scrutiny of absentee ballot rejections in a court settlement earlier this year.

“This constitutional officer has chosen to be on his own and to disregard the input from the people that he looks to for his budget and to consider changes to his office,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “It’s time in Georgia we look at an alternative way of electing our secretary of state.”

Ralston said he was disappointed that Raffensperger skipped the legislative hearing on election problems, where he could have explained to lawmakers what happened. Staff from the secretary of state’s office did attend a Senate hearing last week.

Raffensperger’s office said it didn’t attend because of pending litigation, as Giuliani is pushing claims of ballot stuffing, and that felon voters, dead voters and out-of-state voters cast ballots. Raffensperger has said there’s no indication of widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election.

“Ralston and the Trump campaign want to give the General Assembly the power to select winners of elections and violate the will of the people,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said.

Meanwhile, the president’s attorneys brought witnesses who testified about a slew of alleged irregularities. Among other things, they said tens of thousands of people may have illegally cast ballots in Georgia in November.

Republicans said they need to get to the bottom of it. Democrats said it’s misinformation meant to perpetuate a myth that Trump somehow won.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat from Atlanta, said she found that several voters who allegedly cast fraudulent ballots were, in fact, registered voters and Georgia residents.

She checked property tax records and visited constituents to confirm they weren’t out-of-state voters. She also found that voters who lived in apartment buildings with mail centers on the ground floor had been accused of using post office boxes for their addresses.

“Many of the names listed on your list are erroneous,” Nguyen told Matt Braynard, a former Trump data expert. “You allege these voters have committed a felony. There have been no attempts to contact them to verify.”

Braynard responded that his data raised questions about “potentially illegal ballots,” and he acknowledged that only the state government could verify whether they were legitimate voters.

Giuliani told state lawmakers that he views Georgia’s election as fraudulent. He cited a video of Fulton County poll workers counting absentee ballots late on election night, a video that election officials have said show they were doing their jobs.

Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said there’s no truth to allegations of ballot dumps on election night in Fulton County, Chinese interference in elections or vote-flipping on the voting equipment. Three vote counts, by machine and by hand, have verified the accuracy of the result.

“Giving oxygen to this continued disinformation is leading to a continuing erosion of people’s belief in our elections and our processes,” Sterling said. “This office will continue to be responsible and follow the law and follow the rules.”

At the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump asked to intervene in a Texas lawsuit that seeks to void election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Texas says Georgia election officials illegally changed the rules for voter signature verification and early opening of absentee ballot envelopes.

It’s a long-shot claim, but Republican officials from numerous other states have filed briefs in support of Texas’ position. Georgia’s own U.S. senators and some Republican state legislators also have sided with Texas against their own state.

More than 100 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives — including most Republicans from Georgia — also sided with Texas in a brief filed Thursday. Democrats from other states have sought to intervene on the side of Georgia and its fellow defendants.

On Thursday, Georgia filed its formal response. Among other things, it argues that it did not violate election laws, that similar claims have been raised in numerous unsuccessful lawsuits and that Texas has no standing to tell another state how to conduct its elections.

“The novel and far-reaching claims that Texas asserts, and the breathtaking remedies it seeks, are impossible to ground in legal principles and unimaginable,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr argued in the court brief.

Other lawsuits seeking to overturn the election also are pending in state and local courts. And the Republican National Committee and the Georgia Republican Party are seeking to limit the use of absentee ballot drop boxes to normal business hours and seeks greater access for poll monitors.