GOP hopeful for Georgia election chief campaigns on 2020 denial

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice attacks Secretary of State Raffensperger in primary
The Republican Party primary for Georgia's top elections official includes, from left, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.

Credit: Isaac Sabetai

Credit: Isaac Sabetai

The Republican Party primary for Georgia's top elections official includes, from left, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.

Republican Congressman Jody Hice says he still doesn’t believe the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was correct, more than a year after he objected to counting Georgia’s electoral votes for Democrat Joe Biden.

Now Hice is using election denial as the basis of his campaign for secretary of state, a position that would put him in charge of certifying vote counts and overseeing elections statewide.

Hice is challenging Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who stood up to then-President Donald Trump’s demand that he “find” enough votes to reverse official results showing Biden won the election.

The May primary election will reveal whether Republican voters support Raffensperger, an incumbent who wrote a book on election integrity, or Hice, a Trump-endorsed former pastor who has made faith in unproven voter fraud claims the centerpiece of his campaign. A third Republican candidate, David Belle Isle, is also running on his opposition to Raffensperger.

Allegations of widespread fraud in the presidential election have been repeatedly debunked by investigations and recounts, but Trump and many of his supporters continue to promote the idea of a stolen vote.

Republican Congressman Jody Hice, who is running for secretary of state, still says Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential race in Georgia despite three vote counts that showed a nearly 12,000-vote margin of victory for Democrat Joe Biden. Nathan Posner for the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner

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Credit: Nathan Posner

Hice is at the forefront of Trump loyalists across the country who are now trying to use their grievances over the results of the presidential election to campaign to be their state’s top elections official.

Without the backing of the Trump base, Raffensperger is left to campaign on his conservative background and record of defending Georgia’s election from attacks by his own party.

“I’m standing on the truth. They’re sitting on lies,” Raffensperger said. “I know that we made the right decisions. We walked the line of integrity. I think integrity counts — always has, always will.”

Hice blames Raffensperger for facilitating Trump’s loss, saying his rival oversaw an election filled with irregularities and fraud, so much so that Hice says the former president was the real winner. In three vote counts, local election officials tallied ballots that showed a 12,000-vote margin of victory for Biden.

“He has exercised absolute incompetence in his job,” Hice said. “Brad Raffensperger neither secured election integrity, nor has he restored confidence among the voters of Georgia that their votes matter. And that is a desperate problem that needs immediate answers.”

Hice criticized Raffensperger for mailing absentee ballot applications to 6.9 million Georgia voters before the primary election, and for allowing absentee ballot drop boxes to proliferate during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger Hice stood up to then-President Donald Trump’s demand that he “find” enough votes to reverse the official results in Georgia's 2020 presidential election showing Democrat Joe Biden won. He now faces two challengers in the state's GOP primary. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Twenty-seven states are holding elections for secretary of state this year, and 18 of them have candidates who dispute the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, according to States United Action, an advocacy organization for fair elections.

Before challenging Georgia’s votes in a joint congressional session on Jan. 6, 2021, Hice had written “This is our 1776 moment” on Instagram before deleting it. A Hice spokeswoman said his post was meant to highlight his objection to the vote count, not a consent for riots at the Capitol.

Hice was also among seven Georgia Republican congressmen and 28 state legislators who supported a Texas lawsuit that tried to overturn the presidential election in his home state.

He is catering to the 74% of Republican voters who believe there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election, according to a January poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. By comparison, just 6% of Democrats and 26% of independents said there was widespread fraud.

Hice, like others already in office, doesn’t dispute the outcome of his own reelection to Congress, which happened on the same day as the presidential election he says was fraudulent.

“If we had an accurate understanding of the irregularities and fraud that took place, I believe it would prove that President Trump won,” Hice said. “The reason it hasn’t been proven is because we have a secretary of state who has refused to do the investigation that his office is required to do. He has stood in the way of virtually every effort.”

Raffensperger’s office investigated hundreds of allegations into the 2020 election and only discovered isolated fraud.

Raffensperger ordered an audit that recounted 5 million paper ballots by hand. Another audit of signatures on 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County found no cases of fraud. Investigators rejected claims of counterfeit ballots, dead voters, double voters and out-of-state voters.

“Facts can be a brutal thing,” Raffensperger said. “I’m not excited about having President Biden be my president. But President Trump did come up short. My job is to report the facts and let people know why.”

Former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, who forced Brad Raffensperger into a primary runoff in 2018, is running once again for secretary of state as a Republican. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)

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Belle Isle, a former Alpharetta mayor who forced Raffensperger into a runoff four years ago, said voters should hold the incumbent responsible for mailing absentee ballot applications during the coronavirus-plagued 2020 primary and settling a court case over absentee ballot verification based on voter signatures. Georgia’s voting law passed last year requires additional forms of verification.

“There’s a hole in the boat on the election side, and we’ve got to plug that hole, we’ve got to fix the security issues and we’ve got to win back trust,” Belle Isle said. “Decisions that the secretary of state make, they matter. They do have an impact. And when you have a tight race, it could change the outcome.”

If the three candidates split the Republican vote enough that none wins a majority in the May 24 primary, a runoff would be held four weeks later between the top two.

The winner of the Republican primary will advance to the November general election against the Democratic Party’s nominee.

Several Democrats are running for secretary of state, including former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who represents Atlanta.

The Democratic candidates are emphasizing voting rights and access, and they’ve said Republicans are trying to use the power of the secretary of state’s office to gain a partisan advantage in future elections.

Key 2022 election dates

May 2: Early voting begins for primary elections

May 24: Primary election day

June 21: Primary runoff

Nov. 8: General election