THOMASVILLE — Three Republican challengers laid out their cases for Thomas County voters to choose them to replace Brad Raffensperger as Georgia’s secretary of state — even as Raffensperger mounts a re-election bid.

Current U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, Treutlen County Probate Judge T.J. Hudson and former Alpharetta mayor David Belle Isle took turns at last week’s Thomas County GOP forum stating their reasons why voters should choose them — and repudiate Raffensperger.

All three candidates on the podium last Tuesday also said looking at replacing the Dominion Voting System must be a priority. 

The November 2020 election — along with the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots and voters receiving ballots in the mail, among other issues — has irked many rank-and-file Republicans. It’s led to a bevy of challengers for an incumbent from the same party.

Hice touted his endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Hice admittedly is giving up a safe seat in the U.S. House for a run at the state secretary of state’s office. 

“We saw a disaster in this last election and it rests 100% on the shoulders of Brad Raffensperger,” Hice said. “He needs to find another job to do.”

Belle Isle lost in a runoff to Raffensperger four years ago.

“The tendency is to say ‘anybody but Brad Raffensperger,’” he said. “But I want to tell you there is more at stake here.”

Hudson. with a cowboy hat, boots and belt buckle — “it’s not a costume, it’s who I am,” he said — was a first deputy sheriff in his small middle Georgia county before he was urged by his mentor, the sheriff, to run for probate court.

He became the youngest probate court judge in the state and the first Black man to hold a probate judgeship in Georgia history.

“I’m not going to give you a stump speech. I’m going to give you a fact speech,” Hudson said. “Georgia has never had a secretary of state who has had elections experience. I think our chief elections official in this state should have some type of elections experience.”

As Treutlen’s probate judge, Hudson is in charge of elections for the county. He was selected to be on the study committee to look at replacing the previous voting system with the Dominion Voting apparatus, but an accident left him unable to take part. That committee, Hudson said, recommended keeping the old system.

Nine counties were chosen as pilots to try out Dominion, including his own. But for that vote in Treutlen, it was a municipal election with no challengers, so the system wasn’t used. Six counties that tried Dominion had problems, Hudson said.

“It was said our old system was outdated and Georgia voters wanted something to take home, a paper receipt,” he said. “As each and every one of you know, we still don’t have a paper receipt. Why would we go to a system that Texas banned in 2016?

“The question I have always asked is how can Florida vote 11 million people and they’re home by 9 and we as Georgians cannot vote 6 million in three days?” 

Hice is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which he called “the Republican wing of the Republican party in Washington.” He is also on the Oversight Committee and said the move to pass HR 1 would essentially cede state and local control over election to the federal government. 

“The Constitution is clear that the time, place and manner of elections is to be left to the states,” Hice said. “The Democrats started putting forth legislation to take that away. We started pushing back.”

COVID-19 also factored in, Hice charged, and Democrats moved to take advantage of the pandemic to have ballots mailed to all voters. 

“They were trying to do the same thing in Georgia,”  Hice said. “We urged (Raffensperger) not to send out absentee ballot requests to everyone on our voter registration file. He did it anyway.

“Brad has unilaterally made some decisions that have destroyed election integrity in this state,” Hice added. “He has destroyed and taken away confidence from voters in this state that we will have one legal ballot cast and one legal ballot counted.”

Hudson said what separates him from the other candidates is elections experience. 

“We have a congressman running with no election experience,” he said. “We have a mayor running with no election experience. We have a secretary of state running with no election experience.

“I have done it. The only thing the other candidates have done is gone to the polls and cast a ballot. I actually have run elections.”

Belle Isle said the state has gone from election integrity issues to election trust issues. 

“All four of us had the right opinion on election integrity,” he said, noting the 2018 election. “But the guy who got the job, couldn’t do the job.”

Belle Isle also noted that elections aren’t the only responsibilities of the office. He pointed to his track record as Alpharetta mayor. 

“There is a difference between an issue spotter, and someone who knows how to get things done,” he said.

Hice said the state needs someone in the secretary of state office who tell the Biden administration that Georgia will not participate in HR 1, which has yet to pass Congress.

“We are in the fight of our life,” he said. “There are some good candidates in this race, some men I respect deeply. But the truth of the matter is this race is between me and Brad Raffensperger. I am running to clean up the election disaster Brad Raffensperger created.” 

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