Republicans scuffle over 2020 in race for Georgia elections chief

Republican candidates running for Georgia secretary of state participated Monday in the Atlanta Press Club debate at Georgia Public Broadcasting. From left: David Belle Isle, Jody Hice, T.J. Hudson and Brad Raffensperger.

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Republican candidates running for Georgia secretary of state participated Monday in the Atlanta Press Club debate at Georgia Public Broadcasting. From left: David Belle Isle, Jody Hice, T.J. Hudson and Brad Raffensperger.

Competitors attack Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in debate

Republican candidates for Georgia secretary of state clashed over election fairness during a debate Monday, with U.S. Rep. Jody Hice repeating unproven allegations of fraud and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger calling him a liar.

The three Republican candidates targeted Raffensperger throughout the debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and aired by Georgia Public Broadcasting. They blamed him for mailing absentee ballot applications to all active voters during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing the use of drop boxes and asserting the election was accurate.

Raffensperger fought back, saying he upheld election integrity while his competitors are undermining voter confidence by promoting the idea that the 2020 presidential election was fundamentally flawed.

ExploreRace for Georgia election chief focused on fallout of 2020

“This last election was an absolute disaster under the leadership of Brad Raffensperger,” Hice said. “He has lost confidence in the voters of Georgia that we will have one legal ballot cast and one legal ballot counted.”

Hice, who has said he doesn’t believe the outcome of the 2020 election was correct, voted against accepting Georgia’s electoral votes in Congress after Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump by about 12,000 votes. Three vote counts and multiple investigations upheld Georgia’s results.

“Jody Hice has been running around Georgia for the last 18 months lying about our election process. That’s what destroys confidence,” Raffensperger said. “At the end of the day, we had an election where we verified and investigated every single allegation.”

Early voting started Monday before the May 24 election, with the winners of each party’s primary advancing to the next round. With four Republican and five Democratic candidates, runoffs would be held if no one receives over 50% of the votes cast.

David Belle Isle, the former mayor of Alpharetta, said Raffensperger shouldn’t have agreed to a court settlement in March 2020 that required local election officials to consult with their co-workers before rejecting absentee ballots because of an apparent signature mismatch.

“We’ve shifted the burden in favor of accepting all absentee ballots, whether they be invalid or valid,” Belle Isle said. “Those are the kinds of things that have brought true questions to this 2020 election.”

But election data indicates the settlement didn’t change absentee rejection rates. County election officials rejected about 0.2% of absentee ballots because of signature issues in 2018 and 2020.

T.J. Hudson, a former probate judge, said voters should choose him based on his experience running local elections in Treutlen County.

“Our current secretary of state was absent. We heard from a staffer. We never heard from our current secretary of state. He was too busy giving interviews on CNN. I’m surprised he’s even here today,” Hudson said.

Hice brought up the latest conspiracy theory about the 2000 election, alleging an illegal ballot harvesting operation collected and delivered absentee ballots throughout metro Atlanta.

Under state law, only voters, family members and caregivers are allowed to handle absentee ballots, but even if ballot harvesting occurred, it wouldn’t invalidate legitimate ballots turned in by unauthorized individuals. The State Election Board recently issued subpoenas to find out if the ballot harvesting allegation is credible.

“Brad, what an absolute joke for you to say that you have outlawed ballot harvesting. You created ballot harvesting in Georgia” by authorizing drop boxes, Hice said.

Raffensperger defended his decisions to mail absentee ballot applications and allow drop boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying if he hadn’t done so, Democratic counties with those accommodations would have had an advantage over Republican counties that didn’t plan to increase voter access.

“You get down to this actual, total disinformation, misinformation, outright lie,” Raffensperger said to Hice. “How can you have confidence from people ... as the sitting congressman who should be telling the truth?”