Secretary of state candidates clash over voting rights
Georgia Secretary of State candidates Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat Bee Nguyen both claim to be strong defenders of voting rights for Georgians, though they hold starkly different visions about how to protect the state’s elections.
One of the secretary of state’s main jobs is to administer elections. During his first term in office, Raffensperger, an engineer by profession, developed a reputation as a national defender of election integrity. Nguyen, who founded and ran a non-profit prior to entering politics, has staked her campaign on defending election accessibility and the voting rights of Georgians, especially Georgians of color.
The formerly low-profile role has become a key site of political contention in Georgia, where legislative reforms to state voting laws and election-results challenges have put a national spotlight on the basic machinery of the state’s democratic system.
Last year, Raffensperger cemented his reputation as a person of integrity and even a defender of democracy when he stood up to then-President Donald Trump’s attempt to persuade him to “find” additional votes to swing Georgia’s 2020 election results in Trump’s favor.
In nationally televised testimony, Raffensperger told a U.S House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the national capitol how he resisted Trump’s requests during a lengthy — and high-pressure — phone call in early 2021.
“There were no votes to find,” Raffensperger told the committee in June. “The numbers were the numbers and we could not recalculate because we made sure that we had checked every single allegation.”
Closer to home, Raffensperger defended a long list of Georgia election policies in a lawsuit filed by voting-rights group Fair Fight Action in 2018.
This week, a federal district court judge ruled Georgia is not required to change those policies. Fair Fight Action is likely to appeal the decision. Raffensperger called the ruling a victory and said the lawsuit was politically motivated.
Raffensperger has made a point of cleaning up Georgia’s voter rolls — sometimes too aggressively, voting-rights advocates like Nguyen contend.
Earlier this year, Raffensperger called for a state constitutional amendment banning non-citizens from voting, which is already prohibited under Georgia law. And he audited Georgia’s voting rolls for non-citizens who had registered and found around 1,600 cases, which he referred to other agencies for further investigation.
Raffensperger has also defended the state’s controversial 2021 election reform law – Senate Bill 202. That law added an ID requirement to absentee ballot requests, restricted the location of ballot drop boxes and prohibited non-poll workers from handing out food and drinks near voters standing in line.
It also drew national criticism and led Major League Baseball to move the 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver in protest.
Raffensperger and other Republican leaders in Georgia have defended the law as essential to protecting Georgia’s elections.
“As Secretary of State I worked to pass SB 202 known as the Election Integrity Act, making Georgia one of the top states in the nation for election security,” Raffensperger said this week. “I am the only candidate with a proven record of protecting all Georgia voters, regardless of political pressures.”
Like Raffensperger, Nguyen got her start in politics representing an Atlanta district in the state House of Representatives after winning her seat in a 2017 special election. But Nguyen differs from Raffensperger on what the basic stance of Georgia’s election laws should be: She argues that the laws should be pitted in favor of registering people to vote rather than overly focused on administrative requirements that might disenfranchise people.
One of her proudest accomplishments as a state representative was getting an “exact match” voter registration law changed, which helped restore 50,000 voters to the voter rolls, Nguyen said. She also co-sponsored legislation to allow some former felons to vote in Georgia.
And she says that despite Raffensperger’s national reputation, he has undermined voting rights in Georgia.
“Here’s the thing about Brad Raffensperger. He wants to present himself to Georgia voters as a person who stood up against Donald Trump,” Nguyen said. “But the reality is following the law is the bare minimum and expected out of any elected official who took the oath of office.”
A recent series of ads supporting Nguyen paid for by the state Democratic Party criticizes Raffensperger’s defense of the 2021 Georgia election law, calling it “one of the most restrictive new voting laws in the country.”
The ads, which are running in five large Georgia media markets, also criticize Raffensperger’s stance on abortion, which became a lighting-rod campaign issue after a Georgia law banning most abortions took effect this summer.
“You may think you know Brad Raffensperger, but you don’t know the whole story,” says the ad’s narrator. “Raffensperger wanted to outlaw abortion at the moment of fertilization.”
While he was a state representative, Raffensperger sponsored an unsuccessful 2016 state House resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to “recognize the paramount right to life of all human beings at any stage of development.”
Abortion is irrelevant to the secretary of state’s role, said Jordan Fuchs, a spokeswoman for the Raffensperger campaign.
“Job one is to know what the secretary of state’s office actually does,” Fuchs said. “It’s clear that Bee [Nguyen] doesn’t understand that this office has nothing to do with this topic.”
Nguyen’s campaign released details about third-quarter campaign fundraising this week. Nguyen raised over $1 million over the last three months. All told, the campaign has raised a total of $3.2 million and currently has about $1.2 million in cash on hand, a press release noted.
The Raffensperger campaign is expected to post its latest campaign fundraising numbers within the next few days.
Ted Metz, a Libertarian candidate, is also running for the post.
The three candidates will debate Oct. 18 as part of the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young debate series.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.