A conversation with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

Brad Raffensperger
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (Credit: Office of the Secretary of State)
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (Credit: Office of the Secretary of State)

Brad Raffensperger is a busy man. Georgia’s elections czar’s schedule rivals that of other highly-sought-after, in-the-news politicians these days. Everyday, actually.

The Peach State’s 29th secretary of state has been very much in demand: speaking to the press, speaking to Congress, speaking to federal prosecutors. For the last several years, Raffensperger has  been at the center of investigations, audits and grand juries regarding Georgia elections.

 This week he met with federal prosecutors over ongoing investigations into former President Donald Trump’s meddling in the 2020 Presidential election.

Overseeing the state’s election system, which has been in the national spotlight over the last couple of years, isn’t the only part of Raffensperger’s job. His office is in the process of reviewing dozens of licensing boards. 

The engineer-turned-millionaire businessman-turned-politician is a soft-spoken, deeply-religious man. In addition to the relentless election-related scrutiny he has faced, Raffensperger has had to endure the death of his oldest son in 2018.

He was deliberate and measured during his interview with State Affairs.

 A Republican, he shared his life experiences in his 2021  book, "Integrity Counts,” where he refutes Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Like the movie 1993 Groundhog Day where the main character is forced to relive one day over and over again, Raffensperger is eager to remove himself from the ongoing loop of reliving – and retelling – his unwitting role in the 2020 presidential election controversy, one of the most unusual moments in American politics.

“The people of Georgia and myself,  we’ve moved forward and we're focused on the future,” said Raffensperger.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. Where did you grow up and what, if any, influence did that have on where you are today?

A. I was born in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania in a little town called Sinking Spring. We [he and his wife Tricia] moved [to Georgia] in 1982. This is where we raised our family and built our business. Georgia has probably had the greatest influence in my life. It was like growing up in Pennsylvania. The small town values. It's just been really a good state for us.

Q. Who or what has influenced you and why?

A. Obviously, your parents do. My dad Paul was a World War II navy veteran and engineer. My mom Barbara was a homemaker and later did real estate when we [he and his siblings] were in high school. That World War II generation were good people who tended to be hard-working. They had a great work ethic. It was the American work ethic.

Q. What led you to run for secretary of state?

A. The office of secretary of state is a great position for someone who has a business background. What you're really doing is you're operating things. You’re running things. You're managing things. Obviously, everyone knows the secretary of state oversees elections ... But the office also oversees registrations of corporations. I implemented the ability for business owners to renew their corporation for up to one, two or three years now. Twenty-five percent of all business owners in Georgia are using the two and three-year option. 

Then there’s professional licensing. We have different boards — 140 different licenses. I'm a structural engineer, licensed civil engineer, also a licensed contractor, and nurses are among the largest profession. So I have professional respect and courtesy to everyone who holds a license. How do we prepare their licenses quickly? Right now we have a Licensing Reform Commission that we looked at. So what can we do to reduce barriers for employment for our fellow Georgians to get out there and make more money and deal with the fewest burdens placed in front of them from government agencies?

Q. Over the last few years, you've been at the center of investigations, audits and grand juries regarding Georgia elections. You and your family were harassed after you refused to honor former Pres. Trump’s request to find more votes. What do you wish the public knew about you?

A. I've been very clear that I will always make sure that I follow the law and follow the Constitution. What we do in this office is  fiduciary. Our job is to make sure everyone knows we're going to have fair, honest and accessible elections. My job is to protect that.

Q. What’s the biggest lesson that’s emerged?

A. The people of Georgia are good. In spite of all those allegations that were made, in spite of the large proportion of Republicans that we have in our state, I was re-elected with the largest percentage victory of any office holder. And I think it was because I was standing for the rule of law and standing for the people.

That's the goodness of people. They want to know that the game is fair. That there’s someone there who is doing everything they can to make sure we have accurate, fair and honest elections. It really shows how good my fellow Georgians are and that's why it's an honor to represent the people of Georgia.

The GA WORKS Licensing Commission (Credit: Office of the Secretary of State)

Q. How have the last few years of challenges changed you? Or has it changed you?

A. No. We keep doing what we're doing. We're focused on the 2024 election cycle. 

Right now, we have our ongoing Secretary of State commission looking at licensing reform. What does that look like? We made sure a bipartisan commission was formed with four state senators and four state reps. We also have three people who have been on boards for over five years. We’re reaching out to key stakeholders like the Georgia Chamber, the Savannah Chamber and the Metro Chamber, so they can reach out to the business community. Then we can come back to the General Assembly next session and give them really good solid information and a solid action plan.

Q. The vulnerabilities in the Dominion voting software won't be updated before the 2024 presidential election. Does that concern  you?

A. Our system is secure and battle-tested. And so is my team. We’re ready.

Q. You recently kicked off the 2024 election campaign by announcing the dates of the 2024 primary election. Are election workers still under the gun physically and emotionally? What are you hearing from them heading into the 2024 election?

A. We haven't seen that issue in Georgia because Georgia voters have moved forward. We just have a lot of good, kind, neighborly folks who show up to vote. And our election workers come from that same group of folks. They're just active in their community. So we feel really grateful for the participation we have.

Q. Senate Bill 202, passed in 2021, essentially took a good portion of the secretary of state's authority. For example, the secretary of state is no longer head of the state board of elections. Any thoughts on that?

A. We still have the constitutional authority for elections. I'm just merely not the chairman of the State Election Board. The State Election Board’s sole purpose is to hold counties accountable.

Q. Last week, the State Election Board voted unanimously to drop a potential state takeover of elections in Fulton County. Was that the right thing to do?

A. Fulton County has made improvements and they've [State Election Board ] done a deep dive on it. They've made their decision and I hope there’s continued progress for county elections as the largest [local elections board] county [in Georgia]. It's important that all 159 counties are performing at a very high level. I'm hopeful that Fulton County got the message and is going to continue improving their processes.

Q. Are there other local election boards that need to be run by the state or at least have the state look into their processes?

A. Well, that is a decision for the State Election Board.

Q. What are the biggest challenges going forward as secretary of state?

A. We're focused on 2024 and every election. We’re looking at any bad actors. And that’s why I call on the General Assembly to increase fines and jail time for anyone who attempts to hack into or somehow take possession of any equipment.

Q. Has that been a recent problem?

A. We had Coffee County [where there was a case last year of alleged post-election breach of voting equipment] and I believe there should be strong deterrents as critical national infrastructure as designated by the federal government. I need to make sure there are very stiff penalties for anyone attempting to delay our election system. So it'd be a 10-year prison term and a $1 million fine.

Q. What was your initial reaction when you heard about the Coffee County incident? And what did you feel your office could do at the time to address the issue?

A. We can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.

Q. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a legal theory that would have given state legislatures unchecked power to set rules for federal elections. Thoughts?

A. I would have to look at that. I'm an engineer, not a lawyer.

Q. Many states have left ERIC [the Electronic Registration Information Center]. Why did you  stay?

A. It's the only system that is available nationally. It's a multi-state compact. When you join ERIC, you can share your data with other states. So, for instance, you can find out if people are still residents in your state who have moved to other states. It provides you with cleaner voter rolls. That's the only tool available to do that and that's why we are recognized as having the cleanest voter rolls in the entire country.

Q. What is the biggest misnomer about you and your job?

A. I don't think most people understand that we're involved in the corporate side of things and professional licensing security. It's a very broad-based office with oversight and responsibility of different areas.

Q. Have you thought about running for governor?

A. Well, I think people, you know, come up with all sorts of ideas. Right now,  I'm focused on this job, the 2024 election and licensing reform.

Brad Raffensperger
the Bradford jay raffensperger Files

Title: Georgia Secretary of State

Age: 68

Birthplace: Sinking Spring, Pa.

Current residence: Johns Creek

Education: Bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Western Ontario and a master’s in business administration from Georgia State University.

Career: He is the CEO of Tendon Systems LLC, a contracting and engineering firm in Columbus and Forsyth County. He has a net worth of $26.5 million from his private sector work. He served on the Post 2 seat of Johns Creek City Council, 2012-2014, and was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives to represent the 50th district. He is elected secretary of state in 2018 and re-elected in 2022.

Hobbies: Golf

Family: He and his wife Tricia, his high school sweetheart, have three sons [their oldest son is deceased] and three grandchildren.

What job would you be doing other than your current one: In the words of country music singer Luke Combs,  “I’d still be doing this, if I wasn't doing this.”

Reach out to Secretary of State Raffensperger on Twitter @GaSecofState and Facebook @GASecretaryofState.

Have questions, comments or tips? Contact Tammy Joyner on Twitter @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

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