Republican declares win in Georgia elections chief race

(Reuters) - Republican Brad Raffensperger appeared poised to defeat Democrat John Barrow on Tuesday to become Georgia’s new elections chief, holding the office for his party after critics accused Georgia Republicans this fall of suppressing minority voting rights.

Georgians wait in line to cast their votes in the 2018 U.S. midterm election at a Gwinnett County polling place in Annistown Elementary School in Snellville, Georgia, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Raffensperger declared victory in the secretary of state election after winning more than 50 percent of the vote with more than 2,000 of Georgia’s 2,634 precincts reporting, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I’m very humbled and very honored to have won this race tonight,” Raffensperger said, the AJC reported on Twitter.

The race went to a runoff when neither candidate secured a majority of the vote in the Nov. 6 general election as required by state law.

Raffensperger, a businessman and former state legislator, promised to strengthen voter ID laws, update voter lists and improve voting machines in his new role of overseeing state elections.

U.S. President Donald Trump and newly elected Georgia Governor Brian Kemp both endorsed Raffensperger.

“Brad Raffensperger will be a fantastic Secretary of State for Georgia,” Trump tweeted last week. “@VoteBradRaff is tough on Crime and Borders, Loves our Military and Vets. He will be great for jobs!”

The contest showcased the partisan divisions still rankling the state after its hard-fought governor’s race, which saw widespread reports of voting problems during an election overseen by the Republican candidate, Kemp, then secretary of state.

Kemp’s narrow victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams, who sought to become the nation’s first female African-American governor, followed complaints of hours-long waits in heavily minority precincts, polling equipment failures and concerns about absentee ballots getting rejected under stringent rules that voters’ signatures exactly match the records on file.

Raffensperger’s win was a blow to Democrats, including Abrams, who had encouraged her supporters to vote for Barrow and said electing him would “protect the sanctity of the vote.”

Barrow, a U.S. representative for Georgia from 2005 to 2015, pledged to reform the state’s process for updating voter rolls to make sure voters were not purged by mistake.

Raffensperger supports his predecessor Kemp’s approach to combating voter fraud by removing people who might have moved or died, and in some cases people who are infrequent voters, from voter lists.

“We need to make sure that we keep the voter rolls clean, fresh and accurate,” Raffensperger told local media last month. “At the end of the day, we want to make sure that who shows up is who they say they are.”

Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry