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Georgia’s election boss wants to increase support for Republicans

ATLANTA – Brad Raffensperger says the Georgia and US constitutions should be amended to ban non-US citizens from voting. He oversaw a citizenship check of the state’s voter rolls and has announced plans to further integrate citizenship checks into the voter registration process.

Georgia’s Secretary of State readily concedes that non-citizen voting is not a problem. State laws already prohibit non-US citizens from voting. And while his audit identified more than 1,600 potential non-citizens who tried to register over the past 25 years, none were successful.

But Raffensperger, Georgia’s chief elections chief, is nonetheless making the issue a centerpiece of his efforts to win over die-hard conservatives ahead of what could be a difficult bid for the GOP nomination for another four-year term later this month. He’s one of Donald Trump’s key targets this year after he refused to bow to pressure from the former president to topple Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.

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His insistence on recognizing the results of a free and fair 2020 election made Raffensperger an unlikely national figure at a time when fundamental democratic principles were being tested in the U.S. His office has taken those marked by the test to the next Investigation referred to law enforcement and election officials.

“I want to make sure we’re obeying the law, that we’re following the Constitution, and I want to make sure only Americans get to vote in our elections,” he said. “I think that’s really important.”

Others, on the other hand, say Raffensperger was motivated by political calculations.

“This is a pretty safe red meat thing to throw at the base that he hopes will satisfy,” said Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University, of Raffensperger’s focus on the election by non-citizens. “He doesn’t do it because there is a problem that needs to be solved. He’s doing this because he wants to try and buff his conservative bonafide with the base of voters who will determine whether or not he keeps his job.”

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Selection procedures for state secretaries usually receive little attention. But Trump’s election lies have dramatically increased the focus on such races. During his final days in office, Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory, a conversation now under investigation by the Atlanta grand jury.

The results in Georgia were confirmed after a trio of recounts, including one that was conducted partially by hand. They all confirmed Biden’s victory.

Federal and state election officials, as well as Trump’s own attorney general, said the election was fair and the former president’s allegations were also flatly dismissed by courts, including Trump-appointed judges.

Still, Trump has taken the unusual step of issuing endorsements in Secretary of State campaigns across the US, including Georgia. He has backed a rival of Raffensperger, US Rep. Jody Hice, who has objected to the counting of Georgia’s electoral vote for Biden.

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In the last few weeks leading up to the May 24 Georgia primary, Raffensperger and Hice are tied, according to an Atlanta Journal poll last month. About 40% of likely Republican voters were undecided in the race.

At a recent debate, Raffensperger’s three Republican challengers — Hice, former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, and former probate and district magistrate Judge TJ Hudson — accused him of causing Georgians to lose confidence in the election . They criticized his coronavirus-related decisions to mail ballot-by-mail applications to all active voters ahead of the 2020 primary and allow the use of mail-in ballot boxes.

Raffensperger defended his record and the integrity of the Georgia election. He also repeatedly returned to his main campaign message, saying, “The real issue we are facing right now is the choice of non-citizens.”

Georgia law already prohibits non-US citizens from voting in the state. But Raffensperger last year urged lawmakers to pass an amendment to the state constitution to prevent non-citizens from voting. He pointed out that a number of municipalities across the country have made it legal for non-citizens to vote in local elections. Raffensperger said he wanted a constitutional amendment to ensure this could not happen in Georgia.

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Legislation that would have allowed voters to consider amending the constitution to ban voting by noncitizens failed in the Georgia General Assembly this year.

Hice said Raffensperger is using the issue to distract from his record.

“Voting by non-citizens in the Georgia election is already illegal,” Hice said in an emailed statement. “If Brad worked as hard to carry out the duties of secretary of state as he does at the political pose, I wouldn’t challenge him.”

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a leading Democratic candidate for secretary of state, called it “not an issue.”

“We already have evidence that non-citizens are not voting,” she said in an emailed statement. “Brad Raffensperger should focus on making sure our local electoral boards are supported and that every eligible citizen can cast their vote at the ballot box.”

Raffensperger announced last month that a citizenship check of the state’s voter rolls identified 1,634 cases of potential non-citizens attempting to register to vote since a 1997 investigation.

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His office says a handful of non-citizens were caught voting during his tenure and referred to prosecutors.

Last Wednesday, he revealed plans to use a federal database to verify the citizenship status of every voter registration applicant, who is flagged as a potential non-citizen by the state Department of Driver Services when people register while obtaining a driver’s license.

Raffensperger made the announcement outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta while attacking Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor and is a popular target for state Republicans.

“As I take steps to stop noncitizen voting and noncitizen registration in their tracks, Abrams and her allies are working to open the floodgates for all noncitizens to be included on the electoral rolls,” Raffensperger said repeated a claim he often makes that a lawsuit filed by Fair Fight Action, a group founded by Abrams, would abolish citizenship tests.

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Fair Fight executive director Cianti Stewart-Reid said the lawsuit, which is currently in court, challenges a voter registration policy that the group says improperly flags US citizens as noncitizens, thereby depriving them of the right to vote.

“Our lawsuit does not and has never attempted to allow non-citizens to vote in Georgia,” she said in an emailed statement. “Anyone who says otherwise is either not paying attention or is intentionally misrepresenting what’s at stake in our landmark suit.”

As much as Raffensperger would like the primary to be about non-citizen voting, it’s more likely to be a referendum on how Republican primary voters feel about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, said Professor Amy Steigerwalt in Political Science from Georgia State University.

“If you believe it was stolen and that Georgia’s state-wide Republican officials acted improperly, then you will vote for Jody Hice,” she said. “If you actually believe the election wasn’t stolen, if you believe you did what state law ought to do for you as it was required to do, then you’re a lot more likely to vote for Brad Raffensperger.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/09/georgia-elections-chief-aims-to-shore-up-republican-support/ Georgia’s election boss wants to increase support for Republicans

Joel McCord

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