THOMASVILLE — He’s called it the worst job in politics. And he’s running for it again.
Former Alpharetta mayor David Belle Isle is running for Georgia’s secretary of state, an office currently held by fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger has announced he will seek re-election.
“But it’s a job that needs to be done,” Belle Isle said Wednesday at a meet-and-greet. “I know and understand the office. I understand election integrity. I have executive experience and background.”
Belle Isle finished second in the May 2018 primary to Raffensperger, approximately 34,000 votes behind out of the more than 530,000 cast in the four-man race. Raffensperger won the runoff and then defeated Democrat challenger and former U.S. Rep. John Barrow to take the office.
But Raffensperger has been a target of criticism from fellow Republicans for several months, particularly for how he handled the November elections. Belle Isle even noted how national commentators have looked at Georgia’s general election and runoff, and the aftermaths, and made the state a laughing stock.
Belle Isle also lambasted Raffensperger for a consent decree entered into before the election with voting rights advocates over ballot signature matching protocols.
“We ran on election integrity before it was cool,” Belle Isle said of his previous and current bids for the office. “We know what needs to be done, not only for election integrity but to win back trust in Georgia’s elections.”
Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats flipped from Republicans to Democrats in a January runoff for each seat. And fewer Republican ballots, in excess of 200,000, were cast in the runoffs than were cast in the general election just two months before, a bigger drop-off than Democrat candidates had.
“People didn’t come and vote because they didn’t think it was trustworthy,” Belle Isle said.
Concerns over absentee ballot security and integrity were seen as factors in many who voted Republican in the general election not voting in the runoffs.
“Everybody was scratching their heads,” Belle Isle said, “whether it was the absentee ballot issue, whether it was the dropbox issues that didn’t have a meaningful chain of custody or proper surveillance or temp workers looking at ballots to verify signatures. Nothing quite added up in people’s heads.”
Belle Isle said election fraud and voter fraud are smaller subsets of uncertainty.
“I think it’s important to note that proving election fraud is not necessary to improve elections,’ he said. “And you don’t have to look far to see uncertainty.”
As an example, Belle Isle pointed out that on average, 3.5% of mail-in ballots previously were rejected as invalid, either missing signature or non-matching signature, or missing a name or an address.
“In 2020, it was 0.3% and that equates to about 42,000 ballots that in any year would not have been counted but were counted,” he said.
Belle Isle said SB 202, the voting measure recently passed in the General Assembly that calls for photo ID for absentee voter ballot applications, is a strong step in securing election integrity.
“Up until 2020 election, the method of matching the voter ballot with the voter file was through a signature,” he said. “Senate Bill 202 removed that and it is now a more objective standard, which is a driver’s license number or your photo ID number. I think the same rules that apply when you vote in person should apply when you vote by absentee ballot. There should be an photo ID requirement. You have 17 days in Georgia to vote in person, if you want to. It makes perfect sense. It’s the best situation to create that certainty to win back trust.”
While many voting rights groups have called SB 202 a move toward voter suppression, Belle Isle said he doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s not new and not onerous. At worst, it’s voter inconvenience,” he said. “Voter suppression is when people stop voting because they don’t believe it’s going to be a fair and transparent election.
“I am running to win back trust in Georgia’s elections,” Belle Isle added. “Nothing else is going to work in Georgia. It cannot reach its potential or its opportunity if you don’t have at the very foundation safe, secure and transparent elections. That’s what’s on the line here. You’ve got to have it right at the ballot box and right now, we don’t.”
The field for the office also includes U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro) and state Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta).
Belle Isle pointed out that as mayor of Alpharetta, his budget and his staff were larger than what the secretary of state has. There are other issues under the secretary of state’s office — which also handles corporations, securities, licensing and charities — on which he says the ball is being dropped.
“It’s just not making national news,” he said.
In the race four years ago, Belle Isle said he nosed past Raffensperger in the polls between the primary and the runoff — before a big Raffensperger spending spree carried him.
“I thought I was done with campaigns, done with elections,” Belle Isle said. “But when we saw what happened, and the decisions starting with that consent decree and continuing with the absentee ballot applications and the overall attitude of stopping every potential investigation that would come about. …
“But it’s a job that needs to be done,” he said.
Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.