The John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum welcomed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Institute of Politics Fellow and former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant on Tuesday to discuss the role of these “guardians of democracy” in elections, specifically during these past midterms. But first, moderator Abby Phillip, CNN senior political analyst, wanted to get one thing clear from the start.
“I have to ask you this because former President Trump will probably announce that he will run for president in 2024. You are, in addition to a secretary of state, also a Republican. Would you vote for him again?” asked Phillip, who graduated from Harvard College and now serves as a member of the IOP advisory board.
There was an extra beat of silence as Raffensperger, who was just re-elected to his second term, composed his answer. Raffensperger came to national prominence following the 2020 election when he resisted a call by the former president to “find me some votes” to give the Trump campaign a win in Georgia.
“Well, people ask me that question all the time. And actually, one of the first things I did as secretary of state, and it got me in trouble in 2020, is say we didn't endorse the people that were running for the highest office in the land,” Raffensberger said. “As the chief election official for the state, I just don't think it's my position to ever wade into there and start endorsing people.”
“But I will tell you that I'm really looking for someone who is honest, and has character. And to quote Ronald Reagan, speaks kindly. Because I think at the end of the day, that's what every person in America wants.”
Phillip asked the two guests to discuss the role of secretaries of state in this age of election deniers. Tennant, a Democrat and voting rights advocate who consults for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, recalled how she felt after losing her own race in 2020 to Republican incumbent Mac Warner. “It feels a bit hypocritical in a sense,” she said, “because he certified the election, and a couple hours later went to a Stop the Steal rally.”
Raffensperger agreed. “I think if you are the chief election official, your job is to follow the law, follow the constitution,” he said. When people don't concede and become an election denier it's very disruptive to society. We have enough stress already, we're polarized enough. It’s not healthy for our country.”
Phillip also asked about Moore v. Harper, a case on the independent state legislature theory, that will be heard by the Supreme Court on December 7. Raffensperger believed the case, which challenges a state supreme court’s ability to challenge a legislative map drawn by state legislators, will be struck down. “Perhaps worst of all, a state Supreme Court cannot hear a case concerning a federal election because the federal Constitution says it goes to the state. You think: that doesn't make sense,” Tennant argued.
Before going to student questions, Phillip wanted to give Raffensperger one more chance to voice his choice for a presidential candidate in 2024.
“So you will not vote for Donald Trump, just to be clear?”
“Just to be clear, what I'm going to look for is someone who has character, integrity, honesty, and the ability to engage in civil discourse,” he reiterated.
“And speaks kindly,” he added with a smile.
The entire program, Defenders of Democracy: A Conversation with Secretaries of State Brad Raffensperger and Natalie Tennant, is available online.
Banner image: (L to R) Former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, moderator Abby Phillip, CNN senior political analyst, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Institute of Politics Fellow. Photos by Martha Stewart