Raffensperger isn't budging.
While his announcement Wednesday that he had decided to conduct a hand-counted audit of the presidential vote was taken by some Republicans as affirmation of their suspicions, Raffensperger has his own expectation — that the new tally will confirm a Biden win.
"People are just going to have to accept the results," he told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday. "I'm a Republican. I believe in fair and secure elections."
In the political swirl that has enveloped American politics in the days since Trump refused to concede defeat, the most startling example of reality-based GOP pushback has come from the little-known but hugely influential state official in Georgia.
Now, Raffensperger, a 65-year-old structural engineer by trade, is on the Republican firing line on two fronts in a seemingly unimaginable confluence of events: He must preside over Georgia's elections system amid both a disputed presidential election and, in just eight weeks, a runoff for two U.S. Senate seats in which his party's majority is at stake.
That means Raffensperger could well be in office during a loss of historic proportions for his own party — and, as a result, endure weeks of increasingly intense pressure to somehow intervene.
Even as most of the nation's top Republicans have largely gone along with Trump's claims, refusing to refer to Biden as the president-elect, Raffensperger has held firm that Biden's 14,000-vote lead in Georgia is the result of a free, fair and transparent election.
At a televised news conference Wednesday, he sent an explicit message to his party, flanking himself with the local election officials whom other Republicans have accused of illegally rigging the results.
"They and their staffs are the ones who do the hard work on the ground of making sure that all legal votes will be counted," he said outside the Georgia Capitol. "Many executed their responsibilities, and they did their job."
Defiance to Trump might not have been what Georgia Republicans expected from a mild-mannered businessman who worked his way up through the party with stints on a suburban Atlanta city council and in the state legislature — and who campaigned for secretary of state in part on a less high-profile aspect of that office’s official duties, with a promise to make business licensing easier.
But Raffensperger is accustomed to dealing in concrete — literally. In his private business, he manufactures concrete structures such as offices, hotels and parking garages. If that background has lent him one perspective in his current job, he has said, it’s that facts and figures matter.
“That’s why we have a verifiable paper ballot. If there are errors, we now can audit the results,” he said in the interview. “It’s going to be so close [to the current tally], within the margins, that there won’t be the numbers there.”
From city council to the national stage
Raffensperger attended college in Canada, moved to Georgia in the early ’80s and eventually settled in Johns Creek, a northeastern suburb of Atlanta with about 85,000 residents. In 2011, he ran for city council as a fiscal conservative for the nonpartisan body and won his race by 285 votes.
He honed his reputation as a numbers-cruncher early on, telling a local reporter that he wanted the city’s traffic signals synced, “saving our commuters 15-18 percent in their drive times.” And he adamantly opposed raising the property tax.
Ivan Figueroa, who served with Raffensperger on the council for three years, saw him as his ideological partner and once nominated him for mayor pro tem, noting his impeccable meeting-attendance record.
Figueroa, a Republican who now lives in Brunswick, remembers Raffensperger as a man with “very strong beliefs on what is right and what is wrong.”
Figueroa recalled an occasion when the council discovered a budget surplus from a Johns Creek agency, and he and Raffensperger pushed for the money to go toward lowering property taxes rather than another part of city government. Their effort failed, but Figueroa said it spoke to Raffensperger’s commitment to his principles.
Years later, he said he is unsurprised that Raffensperger has held firm.
“He will speak his firm beliefs, period,” Figueroa said. “He’s not going to go with the flow because it’s politically expedient.”
Raffensperger served two terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and announced he would run for secretary of state in 2018. His campaign made headlines for his vast personal wealth, which was about $26.5 million as of January 2018, according to financial disclosure statements. His July 2020 filing lists him as president or CEO of six companies.
The Georgia secretary of state’s office came under scrutiny while Raffensperger was running in 2018. That year, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, accused her opponent, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, of engaging in voter-suppression tactics while he simultaneously ran the office and ran for governor.
Raffensperger vowed to continue Kemp’s strict enforcement of voter-identification laws and the removal of inactive voters from registration rolls. He was endorsed by Trump in his contest against former Democratic congressman John Barrow.
Raffensperger said he would ensure that undocumented immigrants don’t vote, and one of his campaign ads warned that the state’s elections would be “at risk” under Barrow, asserting that his opponent would allow “more illegal voting than ever.”
While Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams, who refused to concede amid allegations of voter suppression, Raffensperger’s race went to a runoff.
Voting rights advocates have vigorously opposed some of Raffensperger’s policies. Nse Ufot, chief executive of the New Georgia Project, which focuses on mobilizing young voters of color, compared him to Kemp.
Yet Ufot said the current call for his resignation “makes no sense, would be disruptive and is not based on anything remotely related to fact.”
“Democracy should not be a partisan football,” she said. “Leave Brad Raffensperger alone. . . . I never thought I would say that sentence.”
Under fire in his own party
Raffensperger’s audit announcement Wednesday came two days after he had faced his strongest intraparty criticism yet: a joint statement from Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both headed to runoffs on Jan. 5, that demanded the secretary’s resignation. The statement, fired off without warning, failed to list a single example of wrongdoing.
Minutes later, Trump claimed that “Georgia will be a big presidential win.”
Raffensperger issued a fiery response, refusing to step down and defending the election process.
But other Georgia lawmakers soon piled on. Rep. Douglas A. Collins, who is leading Trump’s recount effort in Georgia after losing his Senate race, and state party chair David Shafer sent Raffensperger a letter Tuesday saying without evidence that “tens of thousands of ballots” were “unlawfully counted.” They accused the secretary of state’s office of not being transparent, even though Raffensperger has held frequent briefings and has talked with state lawmakers.
Later that day, Georgia’s entire Republican congressional delegation sent a letter encouraging Raffensperger to review the allegations of wrongdoing — for which they did not provide evidence.
Most of the leadership of the state’s GOP establishment has since echoed the unfounded claims of voting irregularities.
Kemp, the governor, was not among them. Raffensperger’s powerful predecessor issued an anodyne tweet Monday: “Georgia’s election result will include legally cast ballots — and ONLY legally cast ballots. Period.”
That Republicans would turn on Raffensperger so swiftly befuddled Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster and consultant who has advised campaigns in Georgia.
“These senators are attacking an election run by an all-Republican administration,” Ayres said.
Republicans appear to be walking a tricky line: They’d like to avoid contradicting Trump, while also not undermining their chances by damaging Republican voters’ confidence in the election system.
State Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican who represents a central Georgia district, said he strongly supports Loeffler and Perdue but said their calls for Raffensperger’s resignation were “unproductive.”
“To politicize the process is, I think, misguided,” he said.
Walker said that he has worked with Raffensperger on licensing issues and that the secretary is “a man of great integrity, great intellect, great ability.”
“He’s got a difficult job to do, and I think he’s doing it well and adhering to the law,” Walker said, noting that it’s not unusual for the state to be counting ballots days after the election, especially in a tight race.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has supported Raffensperger, too, saying publicly that he has “not seen any sort of credible examples” of improprieties.
Raffensperger lamented the tenor of today’s politics, from partisans of all stripes, including the rhetoric aimed at him.
“I just think that people in elected office need to elevate their speech,” he said. “They need to be really mindful of what they say. Right now, we’re going through turbulent seas. It’s very polarized. And I think that some people think that they can say whatever they want to say. And it’s really not helpful to society. Integrity matters, no matter what side you’re on.”
If there’s one thing that would help, he added, it would be to mix up the seating arrangements in Congress, where Democrats sit on the left and Republicans sit on the right. In the Georgia House, it was more like a mosh pit, he said — and he sat between two Black women, both Democrats, who taught him, a White conservative, how to have conversations with people with different experiences and points of view.
“When you sit together, it just helps,” he said. “It’s more healthy, like small-town America, where we talk to each other.”
Raffensperger said he’s not thinking about the politics of it all. He supports Trump, he said, but he’s not going to deviate from the law.
“If people want to understand what I’m doing, I’m just doing what the law says,” he said. “We’re just going to do that. Do I hope that President Trump wins? Yeah, I certainly do. I’m a Republican. But I can’t put my thumb on the scale of the process.”
Gardner reported from Washington. Alice Crites and Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Washington contributed to this report.