The University of Georgia College Republicans hosted a debate on Jan. 31 featuring the four Republican candidates for Secretary of State.
The candidates were Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, State Rep. Buzz Brockway, State Sen. Josh McKoon, State Rep. Brad Raffensperger.
They discussed issues including election security, voter fraud and business climate.
On the issue of election fraud, McKoon, Raffensperger and Bell Isle all said it was difficult to determine the existence and resulting extent of the issue but agreed that the issue required examination and action.
Brockway said that while continued action is needed to keep the voter lists “clean,” he is skeptical of claims of election fraud due to Georgia’s existing protections.
“The way you protect the integrity of the ballot is you protect the voter list,” Brockway said. “You have to keep that clean, and Georgia already does a number of things to make that happen … and I know what we’ve been doing over the past 10 years or so to protect the integrity of the ballot.”
All four candidates stated their support for Georgia’s Voter ID laws as means of preventing election fraud and discussed absentee ballots as a potential threat of fraud.
As possible solutions, Brockway said requiring a photo ID to obtain an absentee ballot was a possibility despite potential litigation issues. Raffensperger discussed requiring two witnesses to verify the integrity of the ballot.
Belle Isle said banning vote harvesting would prevent much fraud in the form of absentee ballots. McKoon proposed requiring a notary to apply for a ballot to circumvent the litigation issues of requiring a photo ID.
“[I am proposing] having a notary verify the identity of the person when they apply for an absentee ballot, which is something a number of other states have done …” McKoon said. “As you formulate this policy, one of the No. 1 considerations has to be what are these left-wing groups going to do in court to try and knock down common sense reforms.”
On the issue of voting machines, McKoon said local input is needed to judge technological decisions going forward but some paper element is needed. Brockway also said public input and a paper component is needed, noting that 70 percent of elections nationwide use some kind of paper component.
Raffensperger said the issue needs to be examined with the input of all stakeholders including both state and county government officials. Belle Isle said a paper based system with “redundancy” is needed to rebuild public trust.
“I support a system where you present your driver’s license as you do now,” Belle Isle said. “That redundancy is what will build trust and secure [the system].”
The candidates also discussed early voting. McKoon said he liked that early voting gave large counties flexibility but said the large window presented funding challenges for rural counties and proposed making the window only a week, including a Saturday to accommodate those with weekday conflicts.
Brockway said the window should be uniform across the state and shortened, citing data that early voting has not increased turnout. Belle Isle said early voting presented challenges for both large and small counties and the window should be shortened.
The Primary election for both parties will be held on May 22, 2018. If no candidate receives a majority, the race will advance to a runoff between the top two candidates on July 24, 2018.