Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is for the first time endorsing a separate agency hiring election investigators, a plan that will overlap what the Republican says is his own underfunded investigation unit.
Raffensperger made the announcement Monday as he also called on Georgia leaders to do more to provide security at polling places and election offices, including sending state troopers to stand guard against disturbances.
House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, have been backing a plan for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to hire agents devoted to election inquiries, saying it would provide greater confidence. The move is another slap at the embattled Raffensperger, who has been under fire by former President Donald Trump for refusing to overturn President Joe Biden’s November 2020 victory in Georgia. Trump’s pressure on Raffensperger is being investigated in Atlanta’s Fulton County.
Raffensperger has been censured by the state Republican Party and is being challenged for reelection in the GOP primary by Trump-endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and others. He was removed from the State Election Board last year as part of Georgia’s new restrictive election law.
As recently as Thursday at an Atlanta Press Club event, Raffensperger declined to endorse the GBI plan, saying instead that his own office, staffed by investigators with arrest powers, needed more money.
“What we really need is a fully funded elections division and a fully funded investigation division,” Raffensperger said.
Monday, though Raffensperger announced that he would “fully support” the plan for the GBI to hire two agents and give the agency the authority to start investigations on its own.
He also called on Georgia officials to deploy state troopers to provide security at polling places, supplementing the security usually provided by county sheriffs, citing an expectation for hard-fought campaigns and close elections this year.
“The best way to provide confidence in our election results is to ensure that poll workers and polling places are protected and poll watchers have transparency,” Raffensperger said.
Raffensperger and some other election workers were threatened after the 2020 election. He said providing security was more important than concerns that people might be intimidated by armed officers at their polling location.
State troopers have general law enforcement powers on state highways and state property but limited power elsewhere. Except for suppressing riots and workplace strikes, troopers are supposed to get involved elsewhere “only if a local law enforcement officer is not readily available” and the trooper believes a failure to act could result in a crime or the escape of someone who has committed a crime. However, state law says local officials can request the assistance of troopers for other duties.
Walter Jones, a spokesperson for Raffensperger, said the office hasn’t prepared any legislation or estimated how much it would cost for troopers to assist.
Terry Norris, the executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association said that a bill would likely be needed to give troopers jurisdiction at polling places. He wrote in an email that sheriffs generally “do not support the expansion of state law enforcement authority.”
The state Department of Public Safety didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.