Republican move to investigate Raffensperger over 2020 election falls short

State Election Board deadlocks on allegations from Fulton County audit

Georgia Republican Party activists and election skeptics pressured the State Election Board on Tuesday to investigate Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over the 2020 election, the latest effort to question the results three years after President Donald Trump lost.

The State Election Board deadlocked on opening an investigation of Raffensperger on a 2-2 vote, short of the majority required. The board then voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly to clarify whether it has the power to police Raffensperger, a Republican who certified the 2020 vote count.

The bid to investigate Raffensperger, supported by a loud crowd of Republicans who filled the Capitol meeting to capacity, reflected a persistent desire to revisit the last presidential election ahead of the next one. Three vote counts confirmed that Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump by about 12,000 votes in Georgia, and multiple investigations have debunked allegations of fraud.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The case considered by the elections board Tuesday sought to hold Raffensperger accountable for human errors in Fulton County’s manual audit of the 2020 election. The board in June found flaws in Fulton’s audit, including over 3,000 double-counted and misallocated votes. The problems didn’t change the overall results of the statewide audit, which confirmed Biden’s win.

“Your decisions to act or not act are contributing to destruction of the confidence by we the voters,” said Sam Carnline of Cairo during public comments to the board. “If the president of the United States is not beyond investigation, the secretary of state of Georgia is not either.”

State Election Board Acting Chairman Matt Mashburn said he didn’t believe the panel of unelected election officials had the authority to investigate Raffensperger, who was removed as a voting member of the board in Georgia’s 2021 voting law, which was passed by the Republican-led General Assembly in response to Trump-supporter complaints.

“When Republicans are fighting so hard in Washington, D.C., against the administrative state and an ever-expanding rule by unelected bureaucrats who are not answerable to the people, I don’t think we should be creating that system in Georgia,” said Mashburn, a Republican who was appointed to the board by the state Senate.

The Republican Party of Georgia, in a statement by one of its electors who attempted to award the state’s votes to Trump, supported the inquiry into Raffensperger.

“Failing to perform this sort of investigation raises questions about the board’s efficacy in addressing this crisis of public confidence in elections administration,” said Brad Carver. “If the board refrains from investigating the secretary of state, it risks rendering itself ineffective and irrelevant in the eyes of the public.”

The complaint against Raffensperger came from Joe Rossi, a Houston County resident who said that the secretary of state is part of a “cover up” of errors in the audit, which was not the official vote count in the presidential election.

“The data that’s posted on the secretary of state’s website from the risk-limiting audit report is sloppy, it’s inconsistent and does not build public confidence,” Rossi said, to applause from the crowd. “The board has an opportunity to put public confidence back.”

Republican voters repeatedly said Tuesday they distrust elections in Georgia, but it’s unclear how an investigation of Raffensperger would differ from the already-completed inquiry into Fulton County’s handling of the audit.

A spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, Mike Hassinger, said the State Election Board should focus on real problems instead of repetitive investigations of elections that are long over.

“2020 has been the most investigated election in history, and the State Election Board should spend less time on conspiracy theories and more time focused on doing its job and clearing out the backlog of 303 cases that the secretary of state has completed investigations for and are awaiting presentation to the board,” Hassinger said.

But previous investigations aren’t enough for the Republican voters who sought to target one of their own, Raffensperger, who won by the widest margin of any statewide GOP candidate in last year’s elections after earning Trump’s enmity for certifying the 2020 results.

“All eyes are on Georgia and on Fulton County for good reason. It is the county with the most egregious errors that, if proven, could reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election,” said Victoria Cruz of Athens during a public comment to the board.

The two Republicans who supported the motion to investigate Raffensperger were Janice Johnston, who was appointed by the state Republican Party, and Ed Lindsey, an appointee of the Georgia House. Those opposed were Mashburn and Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democratic Party appointee.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp hasn’t appointed a new chairman of the board since Bill Duffey resigned in September, leaving the panel without a permanent leader heading into the 2024 election year.

“Retelling the same lies for three years does not make them true, even when citing bogus online blogs,” said Kemp adviser Cody Hall. “The moon landing was real, Bigfoot does not roam the forests of North America, and the 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen.”

Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.