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Georgia Secretary Of State On Vote Recount And Senate Runoff Elections

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump and his supporters are trying to deny and fight election results on every front. In Georgia, that may include an effort to throw out legal votes. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is overseeing a hand recount of the presidential vote that Joe Biden narrowly won while also preparing for two Senate runoff elections in January. He says his fellow Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, have pressured him to reject valid absentee ballots. Earlier today I spoke with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: Will you begin by describing the phone call with Senator Graham where you say he pressured you to reject valid absentee ballots?

RAFFENSPERGER: Someone from his office called our office, and I called him. I thought it was going to be about the senatorial runoff race, but he asked if our absentee ballots could be matched back to the envelope. And Senator Graham applied for us to go ahead and audit the envelopes, the signatures on the envelopes, and then throw out the ballots from counties that had the highest frequency of - error rate of signatures. I think that's similar to what the lawsuit was or has been filed in Michigan. I went ahead, and I explained our laws. And it's pretty clear that both Senator Graham, President Trump - they don't understand the laws here in Georgia. They also don't understand that we actually strengthened signature match here in Georgia for the first time in 2005.

SHAPIRO: Reporters have asked Senator Graham about this, and he disputed your characterization of the phone call, saying he just wanted to understand Georgia's signature-matching requirements and was not suggesting that you throw out legitimate ballots. How do you respond to that?

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, great. Now he understands our law. We're going to follow the law. And so we're going to make sure that we continue on. In fact, our law's very fairly robust. Perhaps we can strengthen it further next session. But we have electronic application for state absentee ballots now that uses a photo ID. And then if you do a paper application, that is signature match. And then when you send all ballots in, those are signature match. And then this year, I took the step of making sure all of our election officials had updated training, if they hadn't had it before, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on their signature match process. And so that's what we're trying to make sure - that we have lawful voters that are voting in all forms of the process - absentee, early voting or day of election.

SHAPIRO: You're being very even-keeled about this and describing the regulations that are in place and the protections to make sure that the election goes smoothly, went smoothly, is accurate. But it's become really personal. President Trump is tweeting attacks at you. The two Republican Senate candidates in your state have demanded your resignation. I understand you and your wife have received death threats. Why do you think this has devolved from a rational, professional legal debate or court case into something so intense and personal?

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, they say that as pressure builds, it reveals your character. It doesn't change your character. And so some people aren't behaving too well with seeing where the results are. But at the end of the day, our office is tasked and charged with following our election laws, and that's what we're going to be doing. We have a very, you know, solid process in place, and we're going to just follow the law. And at the end of the day, people will have to accept the results, but they'll know. And that's why we did an audit, a forensic audit of the machines - because people were questioning the accuracy. Was it hacked? Was it tampered with? And it's not been. We have a forensic audit on that. But we are really trying to knock down all of this misinformation, disinformation and outright lies that people are putting out there.

SHAPIRO: But even if the outcome of the presidential race in Georgia, which Joe Biden narrowly won - even if that changed, it would not affect the outcome of the presidential election. And so why do you think all of this time, money, energy and hostility is being invested in attacking the outcome of the presidential race in your state?

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, it's extremely unhelpful to the two senatorial candidates that are running in the runoff because right now - taking off my SOS hat and putting on my Republican hat, we really need to have a unified focus so that we can, you know, win those two runoffs. But that's - I guess people don't understand the politics of it, and they're taking us down these rabbit trails. At the end of the day, I want voters to understand that when they cast their ballot in Georgia, it will be accurately counted. You may not like the results, and I get that. I understand how contentious it is. But you can then respect the results.

SHAPIRO: Do you think the disinformation, the conspiracy theories, the personal attacks reflect today's Republican Party?

RAFFENSPERGER: I sure hope it doesn't. I've had a tremendous number of people reach out to me - you know, people of goodwill that are Republicans. I know that Democrats may like what I'm doing, but it's not about that. It's about integrity because I think that integrity still matters. And people are reaching out that they appreciate that I'm standing, you know, on the principle of one person, one vote. Integrity matters. Are they disappointed in the results? Yes. I'm going to be disappointed if President Trump doesn't win because we are conservative Republicans. But we move on. And we'll come back, and we'll fight the good fight in two years for congressional races. And we'll also then fight the good fight in four years for our president. But our job is to stand for what is right, for what the law is.

SHAPIRO: Now, there are still two months until the Senate runoff in January, which could determine control of the Senate. Do you think, given all of the alarm bells and false claims, that this will go smoothly? Or, given that you're already getting death threats and calls for your resignation, is this just going to be a downward spiral over the next two months?

RAFFENSPERGER: I hope it's not. Typically, you can expect Democrats to take pot shots at Republicans, but when Republicans take them at each other, it's not helpful. In fact, there's so many going back and forth right now that I'm sure the Democrats have just gone out and bought a box of popcorn and are watching and enjoying the show. So we need to really unify as Republicans and make sure that we help our senators get across. But at the end of the day, as Secretary of State, my job is to make sure we run an honest and fair election. It doesn't matter if you're Democrat, Republican or independent. I have to assure them that every legal vote will count. And that's why we've done this 100% retally of the votes as part of the audit process - so it's a full, transparent process.

SHAPIRO: That's Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

RAFFENSPERGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.