Donate to RNS

Brad Raffensperger in conversation with Maina Mwaura

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger talks with Maina Mwaura about the difficulties of being caught in the middle during the fraught 2021 presidential election ballot counting.

(RNS) — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger talks with Maina Mwaura about the difficulties of being caught in the middle during the fraught 2021 presidential election ballot counting. And how his faith has sustained him through job difficulties and personal losses.

Mwaura: We could all admit this past election season was one of the hardest and one of the people right in the center of all of that is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Raffensperger: Good morning.

Mwaura: So, man, thank you, for your time. So how is your faith? What is your faith? Can we lean into that a little bit?

Raffensperger: My faith is solid. I’ve been born-again since 1998. Took me a little bit longer than maybe other people, but the Lord finally got ahold of me and that’s really when I started my life with Christ. And really, for all through the 90s, church was our focus and running my business and family. Obviously politics. I’m kind of late in life for that, if you really look at it that way. But I spent my time, you know, in the church and ran the men’s ministry at a church, volunteered at Northpoint with leading, co-leading a group of middle school boys for three years, which was interesting in itself.

Mwaura:  Most people know you from the election side, obviously, and we’re going to get to that. But when you say 1988, you became a born again Christian, you arrive at that late. Can you explain that for me a little bit?

Raffensperger: Well, we grew up in the church, you know, going to church. My dad was always the one when we moved — and we moved a fair bit, he was in the construction industry — but my dad was the one was always looking for a church home for us. And so we went to Sunday school class, you know, got confirmed. But then when you go off to college, a lot of times, you know, that season you kind of, you know, head on and you’re not much of a church goer, other like Christmas.

But then really, 1980, we moved to Northern Virginia and and also at the same time, we had our first child and then started going back to a church — in a spirit filled Anglican Church, Episcopal Church. And we really enjoyed it. I guess the beginning of the process, the Lord was calling me back. Tricia was already a Christian, you know, had been since high school and just bit by bit kept on getting wooed and being drawn back to what faith is all about.

Mwaura: Most of the country got to know you on January 2nd. Just overall, how did your faith prepare you for the for the phone call basically from the former president? And I think we’ve all kind of heard that phone call, which is kind of interesting, because most of us, you know, our phone calls are not being recorded. We’re all hearing it. How did your faith guide you through that phone call with former President Trump?

Raffensperger: Well, at the end of the day, throughout the entire election process we wanted to make sure – and I wanted to make sure – I was firmly planted.Here’s what the truth is. And we’re not going to get pushed one way or the other. We’re going to follow the law and make sure that we do what is right.

Mwaura: Was there any time of that call you felt like you wanted to buckle a little bit — just spiritually for your own personal faith? And if that did happen, what got you through that?

Raffensperger: Well, what was really obvious is President Trump had been fed bad information by staff. And I think President Trump, you know, leaned into that because, obviously, that was a whole lot easier to accept than the alternative that you lost the election here in Georgia. But we had the data on our side, we had the facts on our side. And so when you have that, it’s not really a discussion.

Mwaura: Now, your family and you went through a lot. I mean, death threats, threats of harassment from people. How did your faith got you through that?

Raffensperger: Well, Tricia has a tremendously strong faith. And, you know, she leaned into that, but it’s still upsetting her. Number one concern, obviously, is our family, you know, our kids and grandkids and their safety. When people threaten that, it’s just very upsetting. So you lean into your faith, you pray for security. You see, for years I always thought we wore the white hats — Republicans — and the other half — you know, the Democrats — they wore the black hats. And so when you see people that are voting on our side of the aisle have just despicable behavior — sending out threats, it’s just really based and low behavior — it’s really discouraging. But obviously, at some level, you just have to realize my job is to stand firm on the truth, on the facts.

Mwaura: Did your faith waver in any of this?

Raffensperger: Because I never worried about Jesus. You know, like if more of us follow Jesus, you know, like I think also in Christianity, for some reason, you know, a lot of people that aren’t believers, they get mad at Jesus. And it’s like, well, he what did he ever do? He died on a cross for us. He was totally blameless. Yeah. I guess we humans, you know, heap all of our abuse on the top of Christ. But no, because Christ has never done anything wrong. And, you know, he’s the one thing you can lean into. So typically,  when we get tough times in our life, we had issues where all of a sudden, you know, suffering with drug addiction, you know, that was a time for really Tricia and I, we pulled together. We listen to each other. We also leaned into our faith as it says the chord is not broken. And so, you know, that’s really what strengthens you.

Mwaura: Can we talk about your son just a little bit? I loved the song. My wife and I both did. And it’s a club nobody wants to be in. How did your faith guide you through that?

Raffensperger: Yeah, well, it’s a hurt that never goes away. Yeah, I have a friend. They lost their son in their 20s a couple of years ago. And then another person I know, they just lost a young child, two weeks old.  Another friend of mine just went to a funeral. That child passed was two years old.

So no matter what age your child is, they’re always your child. And it’s a deep, deep hurt. Well, who else do you have — family you can lean into and the Lord and you’re looking for comfort and there are no answers. But you do know our son did accept Christ. So I know when I cross that muddy river he’ll be over there with me. And that’s what I lean into, is that, you know, it’s that hope of eternal salvation, the security of knowing that God is faith. God is true.

Mwaura: Thank you for sharing that answer with us. Can we talk about Christians, some of them who would say they feel like, you know, no offense, that you stole the election. How do you convince Christians the system got it right?

Raffensperger: Well, number one, we have 159 counties. The counties run the elections in Georgia. They’re the ones that touch the ballots. They’re the ones that tabulate the ballots. That’s not something our office does. We oversee the elections, but the counties run the elections. Yeah. And Georgia has the appropriate balance between accessibility and security. But people don’t understand or they need to understand the glue that holds it all together is integrity, personal integrity. I have personal integrity. My office has it.

But even more important is you had 159 election directors that are making sure they do the job right. But here’s another thing I’d ask everyone that’s listening to this. You have people that are poll workers, precinct workers in your town, in your community. Yeah. Are you telling me they don’t have integrity? Think about who you know in your church, in your community. You know, Kiwanis, Rotary…  they’re the ones working. They’re the ones that are working these elections. And so they have personal integrity and the system is built on personal integrity.

Now, if we get to the point in America we don’t have any personal integrity, then we’re in a world of hurt, not just in elections, but all the way around. And that’s why at the end of the day, people, I think, need to have something that guides them, something that’s bigger than themselves. And I think really Christianity for me, that is, you know, I believe that if we all leaned into our faith and renewed our faith, Christianity is relevant.

People think it’s not. No, it’s always been relevant. Sometimes societies will drift away and then they’ll come back to it. And that’s what we really need, another revival of faith. People need to have something that means more to them, something that’s going to sustain you, but also gives you purpose. And nothing can be greater than really, you know, doing something that has an eternal significance.

Mwaura: If anybody’s from Georgia, lived in Georgia, it’s been a long season for us when it comes to the election. And we had an election bill, you know, to go to that just came through.

Raffensperger: The Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021

Mwaura: Can we talk about that bill for just a little bit here, Secretary? A lot of people would say, OK, how does this bill come to play, first of all? And did it come that way based off of conspiracy and lies and fraudulent excuses? And so for some people, they’re wondering, why did we even go through putting the bill into process in the first place?

Raffensperger: It’s a great question because we’ve been struggling and we’ve been suffering in Georgia with disinformation and misinformation going all the way back. It started in 2014, people don’t understand it. What they found was a great emotional hook were the words “voter suppression.” And so we came through 2018, when Stacey Abrams lost by a 55,000 votes and she said I would have won, but if it wasn’t for voter suppression, now we have 2020.

So after 2018, when I entered office here in 2019, I said OK, we need to get new machines, I ran on that. Also, but we need a verifiable paper ballot trail. We also needed, instead of updating the rolls, which could look to be subjective, we needed to be able to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, which is a very objective way of updating voter rolls, these fellow states — about 35 of us now that are members of this — if you move to Texas and register in Texas, Texas will let us know. Then we can begin that process of taking you off the Georgia rolls.

So objectively we can clean up our voter rolls and that will make people understand it’s an objective measure, not subjective. Coming into 2021, we’ve just taken a major hit about the election cycle and people are concerned about the absentee ballot security, the identification process. But people need to understand is we’ve been sued by both the Republicans and the Democrats on signature match.

Mwaura: I did not know that to be honest …

Raffensperger: And when I ran in 2018, guess what I said? I said we need to move away from signature match. We need a new move to driver’s license number and that’s what’s in the bill this year. So it would have been nice if it would happen sooner because what it really was creating was a lack of, you know, comfort, confidence in having signature match.

So we take that off the table and now we have driver’s license number. It’s better for election confidence. And that’s really what the purpose of that bill was. We also included another additional day of early voting. All 159 counties would have 17 days. Plus we allowed, you know, to send data on early voting for any county that wants to do that. We also, for the very first time, put in state law that we’d have absentee ballot drop boxes. So people say you don’t have as many as last year. Well, last year we were in a pandemic. Last year they were outside because no, you didn’t want anyone to come in and say you’re right and they didn’t want to come inside your building. So that’s why things have been changed.

Mwaura: Why do you think there’s been such pushback, especially from, you know, Black African-American pastors here in our state who push back and say voter suppression? Do you think they’re hearing from politicians, those words and running with it?

Raffensperger: I think that many cases they didn’t understand it. And then many times maybe some of the politics, politics have entered into it, but I’d be more than happy to sit down with any of them.

Mwaura: So for next, the last question and it’s number one, the question people just want me to ask you, how did you get through all of this really being disliked from people in your own party and people? And what about the Democrat side? And you had a former president Who was literally breathing down your neck at the same time? Was there a Bible verse that you went to during all that?

Raffensperger: Well, you know, Hebrews that talks about running a race marked before you with perseverance. Yeah. That’s probably one that would, you know, hold me, because at the end of the day, it was like perseverance. You got to put your head down. You know you’re doing the right thing. I know it upset a lot of people. You know, what people didn’t understand is the state has really changed. It’s become very purple and you have to run robust campaigns and you have to make sure you always are running a robust campaign.

Mwaura:  Is there anything you would have done differently in all this?

Raffensperger: I think looking back is not really helpful, I think it was a preamble to a book that the person crucifies themselves daily between the threats of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. And so you are in this moment. But the one thing I would have done is probably have, you know, let people know in writing this is what we’re going to do, because we had a couple of people, we had phone conversations and texts and things like that, but we never wrote an official letter. And then they’ve come back afterward to Monday morning quarterback. It’s like, well, we did talk to you, but when the pressure got real hot, they forgot about those conversations we had with them.

Mwaura: You ran for the job the first time. You applied for the first time. Are you going to apply for it for the second time here, too? And do you still enjoy the job after all this?

Raffensperger: It’s a tough job. It doesn’t need to be, but it has been. But I’ll be on the ballot next year.

We never should lose sight that there’s so many good people in Georgia, particularly in our rural areas. Those people are just good, honest people. Some people are confused. But still, I never doubted the people’s goodness,

Mwaura:  Hey, thank you. You did not have to open up your office to us. And I am so thankful to spend time with you here this morning talking about your faith — that side of you that I don’t think you’ve ever spoken about in length anyway. And thank you for giving us a chance to actually do that this morning. I deeply appreciate it. Thank you.