Kemp-Backed Republican Wins Georgia Secretary of State Runoff Race

In this Oct. 2, 2018 photo, Republican candidate for Georgia Secretary of State Republican Brad Raffensperger participates in a debate in Atlanta. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) — Republican former state Rep. Brad Raffensperger will become Georgia’s next Secretary of State after declaring victory over Democrat John Barrow in a runoff that was widely viewed as a referendum on the future of voting rights and election management in Georgia.

Raffensperger, who will replace Governor-elect Brian Kemp as Georgia’s top elections official, will oversee all election activity in the state, including voter registration and federal, state and municipal elections.

“I just want every Georgian to know that I’m going to be fighting for them. I’m going to make sure that elections are clean, fair and accurate, and that’s my number one priority as your next secretary of state,” Raffensperger told supporters during a victory speech Tuesday evening. “I’m very humbled and very honored to have won this race tonight.”

Although the two candidates came within less than half a point of each other in the Nov. 6 election, Tuesday’s vote was much more decisive. Raffensperger received 52 percent of the 1.4 million votes cast.

The results come after allegations of voter suppression rocked the state during the controversial gubernatorial race between Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former House minority leader Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who was hoping to make history as the first black woman ever elected governor in the United States.

Throughout the campaign, Abrams referred to Kemp as an “architect of voter suppression,” noting the high number of voter registration cancellations during his tenure. While in office as secretary of state, Kemp removed over 1.4 million voters from the registration rolls.

Kemp, who was forced to defend himself in nearly a dozen federal lawsuits alleging various forms of voter suppression during the election, refused to resign his post as secretary of state until two days after Election Day.

Although Kemp declared himself the winner of the election by a margin of approximately 55,000 votes, Abrams refused to concede.

Abrams ended her run for governor on Nov. 16, telling supporters that she refused to concede “because the erosion of our democracy is not right.”

Voting during the midterms was underscored by hundreds of complaints across the state claiming difficulties obtaining provisional ballots, improperly cancelled absentee ballots, inadequate numbers of voting machines on Election Day and long lines at polling places.

A group affiliated with Abrams filed a federal lawsuit on Nov. 27 against the interim secretary of state, Robyn Crittenden, alleging widespread election mismanagement and seeking numerous changes to Georgia’s election system and laws.

“While we’ve been able to use the court systems in recent days to force some of these changes, we need a leader who will do these voluntarily,” Abrams said during a call with reporters on Dec. 1.

Barrow, who represented Georgia’s 12th Congressional District for a decade, received Abrams’ support and hoped to parlay Democratic enthusiasm for Abrams into a win. He pledged to push for fairness and accuracy in Georgia’s elections and said he would decertify Georgia’s direct-recording electronic voting machines in favor of paper ballots to ensure election integrity.

Raffensperger received endorsements from Kemp and President Donald Trump, who tweeted that the candidate would be a “fantastic” secretary of state on Nov. 26.

Raffensperger has said that fighting voter fraud in Georgia will be his chief focus while in office. An avowed ally of Kemp, Raffensperger has pledged to continue Kemp’s legacy of cancelling voter registrations to ensure election integrity.

But election officials have said that voter fraud is not an issue in Georgia.

In 2017, David Dove, Kemp’s former chief of staff and legal counsel, testified during a state House hearing on Georgia’s elections system. Dove told the legislative body that, “We haven’t had illegal votes in Georgia.”

With Raffensperger’s election, the legal battles over elections in Georgia are likely to continue.

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