8 Questions for Georgia’s Secretary of State Candidates

Brad Raffensperger (R)

Brad Raffensperger
Brad Raffensperger

Photograph courtesy of Brad Raffensperger Campaign

Republican Brad Raffensperger was sworn into the state House in 2015; and before that he served three years on the Johns Creek City Council. He’s an engineer and the CEO and owner of a special contracting and engineering firm.

1. Like most elected officials, secretaries of state can bring their own projects or initiatives to the job. What would you do that’s outside the formal job description?

My first priority will be to focus on the core elements of the Secretary of State’s Office: elections, licensing, and corporations. We will be looking at updating the voting machines, licensing reform, and streamlining regulations to positively impact corporations. Once we have those projects successfully underway, I would like to initiate an annual awards program to showcase Georgia’s outstanding up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business owners.

It is my belief that when small businesses prosper, America prospers, and when a light is shone on these positive success stories, it rightly acknowledges these job creators for their achievement. It also serves as a motivating beacon for other aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s a tip of the hat to American ingenuity, hard work, and perseverance—three of the bedrock principles for the American dream.

To ensure there is an awards program for every region of Georgia, I envision recognizing rising entrepreneurs in each of our fourteen congressional districts. This will capture business success in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Georgia has been very successful in several industries and markets, and many Georgians are not aware of our national leadership in these industries. This will help transmit our message of success.

2. There’s pretty widespread consensus that Georgia shouldn’t stick with an electronic-only voting system, and the current secretary of state has already requested proposals for new systems. Most states use paper for part or all of the process to boost voting integrity. What kind of voting system should we have and why?

It’s time to update the current 2002 voting machines that were put into service 16 years ago—that’s before we even had iPhones, and iPhones have had [12] software upgrades in that time. We need the most secure voting technology with a verifiable paper audit trail.

There are many security measures that we need to continue to enforce, some being digital and some being manual like photo identification. My opponent has opposed continuing to require photo ID to vote. That would be a terrible change and would encourage abuse of the system.

As we update our voting machines, I will specifically be looking at other benefits such as streamlining the process by asking the question, “Will this make the process faster and more efficient for our citizens?” I’m an engineer; I know about efficient flow and I know about peak flow. I’ll look at the voting process like an engineer and make sure we are being as efficient as we can be.

3. Counties have occasionally given voters the wrong ballot. A security researcher found a Kennesaw State University server full of state election administration data left open on the internet for anyone to read. Should the state step up oversight of county election boards, such as audits of operations? And as for the state, should it accept federal help with voting technology?

A focus on cybersecurity is needed in this day of constant hacking attacks to ensure the voting registration database is secure, combined with rigorous employee training on information security. We need to keep our voting registration clean to prevent identity theft and protect voters. My opponent has said that he wants to stop cleaning the registered voters list, but this would be a disaster for the state. [Eds. note: In a response to a Supreme Court decision that ruled states can use inactivity as a reason to pursue removing a voter from the roll, Democratic candidate John Barrow tweeted: “I’ll protect citizens who choose not to vote and keep them from being purged from voter rolls.”]

It is very unfortunate that counties have given voters the wrong ballot. Everyone involved in the voting process needs to encourage voters to bring matters like this to the attention of the poll manager immediately before they leave the polling station. As Secretary of State, I will constantly emphasize this message to increase voting integrity. However unintentional the cause for the error, the effect could change the outcome of an election and in effect it diminishes all voters’ precious voting franchise. One person, one vote; and it is imperative everyone involved in the election process gets it right.

To that end, I have said over the course of my campaign that in addition to the technology of the voting system, an equally important component is training and communication with every employee and volunteer involved in managing our voting systems. As a business owner I have focused on training my employees during my career. You have to look no further than your local chicken sandwich restaurant to see that it is possible to instill remarkable service in staff and associates. I will bring that same focus and offer training support to any county that reaches out to our office. Within our office we will constantly drill into our team members the importance of maintaining the confidentiality and security of voters private information contained on the voter database.

As to federal help, that would fly in the face of more than 200 years of American history. America is a bottoms-up form of government. Our founders established the Constitution so that the states were tasked with the responsibility of elections. Most states then have their counties with their local county election boards supervise their elections. The counties in turn are organized by voting precincts. It’s a great example of a bottoms-up style of governance and has worked very well over the years.

There is actually more security in a diffused power arrangement than in a centralized federal bureaucracy, and in this day of constant hacking attempts and other bad actors, it is a benefit that America has a decentralized voting structure.

4. Do you believe that foreign hackers or hackers of any sort are a threat to Georgia’s elections? If so what should the secretary of state do about that? Does the state need to step up its voting security game?

Enhanced cybersecurity measures are warranted. Whenever I travel throughout Georgia, it is always a pleasure to meet other Georgians. Georgians are friendly, polite, and honest. Unfortunately, there are characters of bad intentions. Hacking, identity theft, and credit card fraud seem to be a regular staple of life these days. As your next Secretary of State, I realize in an advanced-technology society that hackers never sleep and therefore nor can we. It is a constant battle to ensure the security of our voter database and election machines.

There are further security measures with encryption we need to explore. As I mentioned previously, staff training and communication about workplace procedures to secure information is also critically important. I believe my technical and management background uniquely qualify me for enhancing voting security.

5. Critics of Georgia’s voting system say the state is too quick to move people off the active voter roll or that it disenfranchises people through spelling and data entry errors that are no fault of the voter. But an election administrator has a responsibility to make sure the voting roll is accurate. Things happen, people move or change their name, for example, without telling the election registrar. States maintain voting rolls in different ways. What should Georgia do?

We need to strengthen voter protections to ensure free and fair elections by regularly cleaning up Georgia’s voter registration list and continuing to require photo ID.

Have you or anyone you know ever been a victim of identity theft? Clean voter lists reduce opportunities for voter fraud so someone can’t steal another voter’s identity and then vote masquerading as that voter. I will ensure that voter rolls are clean, accurate, and up-to-date. It’s a constant effort to update the voter registration list since our society is very mobile and dynamic. Clean lists will also reduce waiting time at polls and save the taxpayers money when we increase our internal efficiency.

I will initiate outreach and education so voters notify their election registrar when they move. With the precision that lines are drawn now, just moving down the street to a different apartment complex might put a person in a different congressional district.

6. Workers from electricians to cosmetologists get their licenses from boards that rely on the secretary of state’s office for administrative and investigative work. But several professions have left to find homes in other agencies. Nurses are seeking to leave the secretary of state’s office now, saying its investigators take too long to look into complaints of bad nurses. What does the next secretary of state need to do in the licensing division?

As the only candidate for secretary of state who is a licensed civil engineer in over 30 states and a licensed contractor in 9 states, I understand the critical importance of responsive licensing boards. People work very hard to get qualified to write an exam for licensing and as secretary of state, my focus is to make this process as seamless and efficient as possible. The faster people get a license, the sooner they can earn a living and provide for themselves and their families.

There have been two critical elements that have challenged our licensing boards in Georgia. First, the Great Recession impacted the state budget. For many years, austerity cuts were in place. As the economy improved, a key focus was rebuilding the reserve fund which at its low point had reserves for only one month of government operations. Reserves now exceed $2.5 billion and it is only been this past year that QBE has been fully funded. That issue has been resolved.

Second, license fees have gone into the general fund and were not specifically allocated for the SOS office for licensing administration and management. These fees have been larger than the budgeted funds for the SOS office.

In the specific case for nursing, it is a two-fold issue. Some of the issues are related to funding for the licensing department and the other issue relates to scope of practice issues that are determined by the General Assembly.

I have met with many license holders, particularly many nurses and their key leaders, and my commitment to every license holder is speedy, responsive service. We also need to beef up the size of the investigation unit to expedite investigations.

7. Some states have appointed secretaries of state—it’s not an elected post. What are your thoughts on election versus appointment of a secretary of state? What use is a partisan label in a job that’s rather administrative?

One could make an argument either way, but on the whole I believe it is preferable to have an elected secretary of state as required by the writers of the Georgia state constitution.

An elected secretary of state is directly accountable to the people of Georgia, whereas an appointed secretary of state, presumably appointed by the governor, is not directly accountable to the voters. Since the governor is a partisan position I would expect if the secretary of state is appointed that this person would have the same partisan leanings as the party in power.

Also, many people are not aware that our state constitution provides for a powerful governor structure and providing appointment power to a governor for the secretary of state would only enhance those powers.

Our founders always desired to diffuse power in the structure of the political entity, and I believe the writers of the Georgia constitution have found that right balance with the current elected position for secretary of state, lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and insurance commissioner. After all, each of those positions could be appointed as well, similar to the executive branch for the president of the United States.

8. What are the biggest issues that the secretary of state will need to face in the next four years?

Voter protection to make sure your priceless franchise is not stolen will always be at the forefront. Implementing the new voting system before the 2020 election will be a major focus for the Secretary of State Office. Streamlining the licensing process will be another area of great attention.

There are some who are attacking the elected General Assembly members’ right to draw district lines and are seeking to replace this with an unelected board to draw district lines, along the idea of the California redistricting commission, where it has been a disaster.

When [Democratic Georgia Secretary of State candidate] John Barrow was in Congress, he voted against the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006, a common sense bill that requires voters to show their government-issue photo ID in order to vote. In 2011, Barrow [was among 196 House Democrats who] wrote a letter to all of the Secretaries of State assailing Voter ID requirements.

Predicting the future is always filled with a lot of guesswork, and I believe my real world business experience provides me a tremendous leg up from the other candidates. The manufacturing and construction industry are chaotic at times. Economic turmoil, tariffs, and the unpredictable nature of my industry has made me adaptable and agile in the market place. I will bring that same adaptability to successfully solve problems to the Secretary of State Office. No matter what unforeseen event or obstacle we face, I will be able to steer the Secretary of State Office into those headwinds and provide leadership and vision so that Georgia continues its role as the leader of the South.