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Runoff for Georgia elections chief follows big voting debate

Democrat Secretary of State candidate John Barrow speaks during a campaign stop in Augusta, Ga. Monday, December 3, 2018. Barrow is pitted against Republican Brad Raffensperger in a runoff that will be decided Tuesday. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

A Republican state lawmaker and a former Democratic congressman faced a runoff Tuesday to elect Georgia's next secretary of state, the office held by GOP Gov.-elect Brian Kemp amid midterm controversies over voter access and election security.

Republican state Rep. Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow got forced into a month of overtime after Raffensperger fell just short winning the required 50 percent of the vote Nov. 6. Since then, their race for Georgia's top elections official gained a higher profile following intense scrutiny of the way Georgia handled the general election.

The runoff campaign played out against the backdrop of Democrats' accusations that Kemp used his position as secretary of state to suppress minority turnout and increase his own odds of victory. Kemp insists that's false, pointing to large increases in voter registration on his watch and record turnout in the Nov. 6 midterms.

Read more: Voting access takes center stage in Georgia runoff

Issues that dogged Kemp in the general election — Georgia's strict "exact match" policy for confirming voters' identities and reports that the state's aging electronic voting system was vulnerable to hackers — became the focus of the race between Kemp's would-be successors as well.

Both Raffensperger and Barrow promised to replace Georgia's paperless voting machines with a system that produces paper records that could be used to audit elections if needed.

Meanwhile, Raffensperger pledged to continue Kemp's practices of strictly enforcing voter ID laws and pruning registration rolls of inactive voters to prevent voting fraud. Barrow said Georgia needed to make it less difficult for voters to cast ballots.

Those outside Georgia watching the runoff race included President Donald Trump, who endorsed Raffensperger with a tweet calling the Republican "tough on Crime and Borders." The secretary of state oversees elections, professional licensing and business incorporation in Georgia. The office has no law enforcement role.

Kemp's Democratic rival for governor, Stacey Abrams, urged voters to support Barrow during the same speech in which she acknowledged defeat and announced a lawsuit that would challenge the way Georgia runs elections. That suit was filed in federal court last week.

Barrow also won the endorsement of Smythe DuVal, the Libertarian candidate whose distant third-place finish in November still forced a runoff by keeping Raffensperger's overall lead below 50 percent of the vote.

A win by Barrow of Athens would give Democrats a long-sought statewide victory in Georgia, where Republicans have held every statewide office from governor to insurance commissioner since 2010. It would also mark a personal comeback for Barrow, who served for a decade in Washington before losing his U.S. House seat in 2014.

Raffensperger, of the northern metro Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek, has served four years in the state legislature.

The winner will take over in January from Robyn Crittenden, who was appointed secretary of state when Kemp stepped down last month.

Depend on NewsChannel 9 to keep you posted on runoff results.

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