Q&A with Georgia’s Secretary of State: Early voting, voter suppression and more

ATLANTA — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was on GMA 3 this morning, talking about the election process in Georgia.

Here’s what he had to say:

1. How do you explain the long lines that we’ve seen at Georgia’s early voting sites and what are you doing to fix this problem?

Are we having record turnout? Obviously. On the first day, we were up about 40% from our record we had before. We have 400,000 voters that have voted early, which is another record. So it’s record turnout.

Yesterday I voted in Fulton County. I voted at the Hawks arena and it took me 20-22 minutes.

Then in another location in Newton, in North Fulton County where I happen to live, there was no wait times. And yet, in other parts of the county, there have been.

So we’re encouraging voters to really check all the voting locations, because there are some areas that people are going to because that’s where they have gone to in the past. But there are other locations where there’s no wait times.

Election officials have added additional precincts, additional equipment, but we are expecting this record turnout to continue. And that’s what we’ve been preparing our counties for since January before COVID. So in spite of a pandemic, we are having record turnout.

2. Despite virus fears, determined Georgians are enduring those long lines to cast their ballots. What are you doing to make sure in-person voting is safe?

Well, everyone is spaced six feet apart. That is one reason the lines do look longer, because you’re you are spaced six feet apart instead of being punched, you know, two feet. And so it does look longer.

But there are some longer wait times. We understand that.

When you show up to vote, there’ll be a plexiglass divider to make that as safe as possible. The election officials will be wearing masks and gloves, also cleaning off the styluses for the ballot marking device, wiping everything down before you come in as a voter and wiping everything out after you leave.

It does take additional time, and so that is another thing that we’re dealing with in a pandemic. But in spite of that, we’re having record turnout. That’s that’s the plus side, is that people are really engaged in this election.

And you’re seeing that both sides are excited about their candidate and it’s up 40%, our absentee ballot process right now. Right now we have 1.7 million voters have requested absentee ballots, which is also a record for the November cycle.

3. What’s your response to critics who point to these long lines as a form of voter suppression? Are Georgia’s long lines a form of voter suppression?

The early voting cycle in Fulton County has 19 days to a minimum of 16 days. So if you showed up and there was a long line, you first of all have choices.

You can go and come on down to the State Farm arena. I voted in 20-22 minutes, as I said, but also there’s other locations.

But you can come back tomorrow. And if that doesn’t work for you, you can come back then Monday or Tuesday. And so you have 16 days to really, you know, pick your time when you want to vote and there’s tremendous flexibility in that.

We also had a little bit of a glitch with the software. We’ve taken care of that. It got rectified yesterday, right after lunch.

So now, people are being processed in a whole lot quicker also.

It’s never been easier to vote Georgia and it’s never been more secure.

4. Where does the responsibility fall as the chief elections official? How do you feel knowing that the eyes of the country are on you, shaking their heads in some circumstances.

We do not send out absentee ballots unless they are requested by the voter. That’s a secure process. Then they send it back with the signature. That’s matched. And we have other security measures there. So we have appropriate good guardrails, I believe for the absentee ballot process.

We have photo ID for voting in person. So we feel that is an appropriate guardrail to make sure that it truly is the voter that’s voting.

And then the counties do run the elections. We’re really pleased with what we’re seeing with Fulton County. They’ve really stepped it up. The county commissioners and their county managers have come alongside. They’ve increased their budget. So they understand the issues that they did have, and I have to give them accolades because right now, I know that there are some precincts there, but they’re addressing that very quickly.

And the State Farm arena has been a big success for the Fulton County election board.

5. Georgia has received 1.6 million absentee ballot requests. With a large increase in mail-in ballots this year, when do you believe we’ll know Georgia’s election results?

Well, compared to many other states, very quickly.

Our state election board, which I chair, we made a determination that the absentee ballots can be opened to verify the signatures. Then you can open up, separate out. That takes time just to do that. When you can do that two weeks prior to November 3, begin that process, and then you can scan those ballots. Scan, but not tabulate.

And that’s the big difference. just like you’re scanning the ballots when you show up to vote early.

For races that aren’t too close, we’ll have those results (on Election night).

For the races that are very, very close, we believe that we’ll have them by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. So we’ll have our results very quickly. I think that will give voters confidence.

Also, for the first time ever in Georgia, we’ll be doing a statewide risk-limiting audit of every race. And what that really will restore, I believe to voters, is confidence.

What I’d like to say, and I understand these are contentious times, that half the people will be happy. Half the people will be sad with the result.

But 100% of the people have the confidence that if that race was called on election night, a 51% to 49%, the audit would come out and prove what was the actual results. And when they show that it was a 51% to 49%, then we can all accept the results and get on down the road to the next election.

But you can accept the results that it was accurately counted. I think that restores confidence in voters.

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