GOP attack on elections has voters doubting, too

Some say its time to focus on runoffs
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger turns away from the cameras following a briefing Wednesday outside the Georgia Capitol where he announced the start of a hand recount of the Nov, 3 presidential election. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger turns away from the cameras following a briefing Wednesday outside the Georgia Capitol where he announced the start of a hand recount of the Nov, 3 presidential election. (Alyssa Pointer /

As county officials began a painstaking hand recount of presidential votes in Georgia, top Republicans still refuse to acknowledge the outcome of the national race — and some worry it could hamper conservative turnout in January.

Neither U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler nor David Perdue — both facing Jan. 5 runoffs to likely decide control of the Senate — has acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Nor has Gov. Brian Kemp and just about every other prominent Georgia Republican.

They are following the lead of national GOP figures, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Trump was “100% within his rights” to challenge the outcome of the race, which The Associated Press and national networks projected Biden to win Nov. 7.

But clinging to the false narrative of a Trump victory poses even greater challenges for Republicans in Georgia, who are concerned that hammering conservatives with claims of a fraudulent vote could shift the focus from the twin runoffs in January against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

And Trump’s unsubstantiated accusations that the election was stolen from him despite no evidence of widespread fraud have undermined the confidence of some Republican voters who doubt not just November’s election results but also the integrity of the electoral system itself.

‘It’s not right’

Outside a recent Republican rally for Loeffler, Anthony Simonski said he has harbored concerns about fraud since the 1990s, but that they’ve sharpened this year as Trump amped up his criticism of mail-in ballots.

“It’s not right. It’s not American what’s going on,” said Simonski, a retired police officer from Cobb County. “I don’t even want to say that someone has cheated. But if we’re not looking at it critically, then we’re not doing our job as citizens.”

Supporters react as U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (not pictured) speaks during a rally Wednesday at Cobb County GOP headquarters to unite Georgia conservatives behind her and U.S. Sen. David Perdue ahead of the Jan. 5 runoffs. Some Republicans have expressed concern that the refusal by President Donald Trump and other party officials to recognize Trump's defeat in this month's election will prevent GOP voters from focusing on the Senate runoffs. (Hyosub Shin /


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Simonski said he believes Trump won both Georgia and the White House on Election Day. “My thing is, I want every legal vote counted," he said, "but I just don’t believe they all are.”

Matthew Robin acknowledged that Biden probably won the election, but that elections in Georgia need more rigorous oversight.

“It makes sense that, after every election, we should have an after-action report that looks at all of the issues and becomes a normal part of the audit,” Robin said.

The Georgia voters aren’t alone. A Morning Consult poll this week found 70% of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair. The same poll showed 64% of Republicans calling the result “unreliable.”

'Know when to fold ‘em’

The lagging confidence in the electoral system, stoked by years of unsubstantiated claims of irregularities by Trump, comes at a perilous time for Georgia Republicans.

As the recount got started Friday, several networks awarded Georgia to Biden, giving Democrats their first victory here in a presidential vote since 1992 and energizing the party’s effort to mobilize core supporters to return to the polls in January.

State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, one of the few elected Republicans to acknowledge Biden’s victory, said the intense focus on Trump’s claims of a faulty election shifts attention away from “what’s ahead — the Senate runoffs.”

“From the count right now, it appears Biden has won. I didn’t feel like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton or Stacey Abrams or President Trump won,” he said, adding that his mind will only change if “someone can show me some fraud.”

Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce, who lost his own reelection bid last week, has called on state and national leaders to respect the outcome of the recent election and “transition in grace.” (Courtesy of Cobb County)

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He joins a small number of other Republican officials who have acceded to the reality of Trump’s defeat.

Cobb County Commission Chair Mike Boyce, a Republican defeated in November, called on state and national leaders to respect the outcome of the recent election and “transition in grace.” So did Jason Downey, a Republican member of the state Board of Education.

Former Republican state Sen. Fran Millar put to voice some of the concerns about a dragged-out battle over whether Trump won Georgia.

“It is time for Georgia and national Republicans to concentrate their time and money on retaining the U.S. Senate majority by winning the two Georgia Senate runoffs,” Millar said. “That noted philosopher Kenny Rogers said it best: 'Know when to hold 'em and when to fold ‘em.’ ”

And then there’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who is the state’s top elections official. He’s said there’s no evidence of systemic fraud and encouraged Republicans to accept the vote, though he also ordered a full hand count of roughly 5 million ballots in the presidential race to “instill confidence” in the outcome.

In an interview, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he would prefer to see Trump ahead in Georgia.

“But not enough folks turned out, and that’s where we are right now,” Raffensperger said. “But we’re going to make sure that we follow through the process, that we’re going to count every legal ballot, and the results will be the results. I’m a constitutional conservative. I follow the law.”

Kemp, who was secretary of state for about nine years before his election to Georgia’s top job, said he was hopeful that the recount that’s set to be completed by Wednesday will restore faith in the vote.

“Let’s let that happen and let the chips fall where they may,” Kemp told reporters after an economic development announcement Thursday in Covington.

“People just want to make sure we have integrity in our elections," he said, "and I think the steps that the secretary is taking are going to do that.”

Staff writer Jim Galloway contributed to this article.