If only every election administration discussion could be this cordial, constructive and productive.

That was the mood at the Carter Center on Friday when Carter Center Board of Trustees Chair Jason Carter and Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs participated in a keynote fireside chat during the "Building Better Elections" forum hosted by the Carter Center and Rice University's Baker Institute.

The event brought together officials, civil servants and former secretaries of state from different political parties to find ways to help influence local practices and reforms using the Guiding Principles of Election Administration report first published in 2005 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and updated this year.

Aged 99 and 94, respectively, the work of the two statesmen — Carter, a Democrat, and Baker, a Republican, both of whom believe “elections are the heart of democracy” — continues to hold sway at a time when U.S. democratic principles are being tested.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (left) and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker (center) speak at events associated with the 2005 Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform.

In this 2005 photo, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (left) and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker (center) speak at events associated with the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform.

Credit: The Carter Center

After an introduction by Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander, Friday’s forum kicked off with an informative panel discussion about security and innovation in election administration moderated by Mark Jones, Baker Institute for Public Policy fellow in political science and featuring former secretaries of state from Rhode Island, Kentucky and Washington.  

Then David Carroll, director of the Center’s Democracy Program, introduced Jason Carter and Fuchs, who covered an incredible amount of ground in 40 minutes in their frank and open chat, including the questions that dominate voting discussions in Georgia: Will my vote be secure? Are noncitizens voting in Georgia? Will my right to vote be suppressed? What drives mistrust in Georgia elections?

Watch the forum below:

Productive exchanges

Here are excerpted examples of the discussion between Carter and Fuchs (beginning at about the 2 hour, 40-minute mark in the YouTube video):

Jordan Fuchs, who works closely with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said, “As Republicans we are focused on the security, and we conduct list maintenance through … a bipartisan effort to review cross-state data and get folks who no longer live here off our voter rolls. And I think, [former Georgia Sec. of State Brian Kemp, now, Governor Brian Kemp] got a lot of criticism for conducting that type of list maintenance, by the way, it's in federal law. And every state in the country conducts list maintenance. We are, of course, the best in the country that does it.

Jason Carter rebutted, “So let me, just let me disagree with you for a second. When you say, as Republicans, you're focused on security, what do you mean by that? My point is, do you feel like Democrats don't want to have secure elections?

Fuchs replied, “It’s a bipartisan effort. I work for a Republican, a very conservative Republican, Brad Raffensperger. And Day 1, he ran on making sure that only American citizens are voting. And the media is ignoring this conversation. And I listened to a few conversations before this one. And a lot of people say noncitizen voting is not an issue. Well, it's not an issue here in Georgia because we have vigorous checks that are in place. Yet, we tend to get sued from the left to remove all citizenship checks. And so those types of tactics are causing the types of distrust that you and I are talking about today.

Carter continued: “What are the other sources, you think, of distrust? … I think Georgia has a more robust bipartisan discussion about the security and safety and reliability of their electoral system than many, many other places. I think to your point, this is one of the places where Republicans stood up and said, ‘No, this is a fair system,’…But talk for a minute, if you would, about dealing with the type of misinformation and disinformation that you see and its impact on trust and how we can all deal with that.”

Fuchs responded: “I think a lot of folks know that I land this squarely on candidates who come out and say the election was stolen. And this office has not; this office is anti-election denier. And so we have been heavily pushing back on the claims that Stacey Abrams made as well as others after 2020.”

Carter: ”Others meaning Donald Trump?”

Fuchs: “Yeah, no, and so we, we've been very aggressive about that. And so until — I'll be frank with you: I don't think the issue of trust in this process is going to go away until people start accepting election results. And we have an election coming up in 2024. A lot of folks forget that we just had an extremely successful 2022 midterm election where not a single person contested their race…”

Later in the discussion, Fuchs suggested that, in a rematch with Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential election, Trump could "very likely" win Georgia.

Carter replied: "I would be shocked if Joe Biden claims that an election is stolen. That's just not who he is. And I just don't think that's who he is or, and I don't think that's who any of the Democratic leadership are at this point. I think that what people saw in 2020, you know, we can talk about how broad-based the Republican condemnation was. But it certainly wasn't universal."

He concluded: "And so, I think that we all have learned a lot, and I think we'll do a significantly better job of dealing with anything like that this time around. I also think that what we all need to do and what I think that these kind of, like, bipartisan discussions can do, and what the Carter Center and this Carter-Baker group in particular, can do, is to build this idea, in advance of the election, that this process is fair. And if you think it's fair on the day before the election, you can't change your mind based on who wins. And so I think that that process is real."

The final panel of the day drilled down on local elections, included an introduction by the Baker Institute’s John Williams and discussion moderated by David Becker from The Center for Election Innovation & Research, featuring Shauna Dozier, elections director of Clayton County; Blake Evans, elections director, Georgia Secretary of State’s Office; Edward Lindsey, member, Georgia State Election Board; and Sara Tindall Ghazal, member, Georgia State Election Board. Carroll and Jones provided closing remarks.

For more information on the Carter Center's Democracy Program, click here.