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Georgia Election Official Discusses His Remarks On Threats Against Election Officials


It was a speech that broke through the political noise and spread across the country. A top election official in Georgia telling members of his own Republican Party it has to stop. Gabriel Sterling described death threats against Georgia election workers. He called out President Trump for, quote, "inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence." And he said leaders who've sat silently are complicit.


GABRIEL STERLING: Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed, and it's not right.

SHAPIRO: That's Gabe Sterling, Georgia's voting system implementation manager, who joins us now.


STERLING: Hi, Ari. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: These conspiracy theories and threats have been going on since the election. What was the final straw that prompted you to speak out so forcefully yesterday?

STERLING: Well, a building frustration over time because it has been like playing a game of whack-a-mole. With every new conspiracy theory that gets put up, we get whacked down. And it kept on coming from the president's attorneys, who are now not his attorneys. And we saw kind of a rising level of, you know, language of violence around things and even death threats against my boss, Secretary Brad Raffensperger, sexualized threats to his wife on her personal cellphone and threats against me.

But, you know, secretary - he ran for office. You kind of expect that. I took a higher-profile position of explaining things, so you kind of accept that to a degree. But when I found out that there was a young contractor, you know, mid-20s, who just took a job as a tech working in elections just trying to do his work and do his job, that he did an innocent thing of making a report from one computer to another - and then these conspiracy theorists took this video online, found his name. It's a unique name, so they found his family, started harassing them. And two or three tweets down from the original video, a tweet was saying he's manipulating voter data. Somebody said, you've committed treason, may God have mercy on your soul, with a swinging noose on the GIF. And at that point, I was pretty much done. That was it.

SHAPIRO: Now you've called on elected leaders to put a stop to this. But today a lawyer who was previously associated with the Trump campaign, Sidney Powell, held an event with hundreds of people in Georgia, where she urged them to hound the governor and not to vote in the January runoff. So even if President Trump and Georgia's Republican senators did start to speak out against this, is it too late to put the genie back in the bottle?

STERLING: Frankly, Ari, I don't know. All we can do is tell the truth, follow the law and do our jobs. Sidney Powell at this point has been so discredited and debunked. I'm surprised she hasn't been laughed - well, she has. Essentially every court challenge they've brought has been laughed out of the courtroom. She is still clinging to the fact that there is some secret algorithm or some fractional voting that took the votes away from the president - zero proof.

In our state, we literally did a hand count of 5 million ballots to show that the scanners were correct in showing that the president was down by about 13,000 votes almost. And it came out almost exactly the same, so it's insane. It's just insane.

SHAPIRO: And Georgia's senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both Republicans, are in campaign mode ahead of the January runoff. You scolded them for making unfounded claims about Georgia's election integrity. Have you had private conversations with them or their staff about the impact of their remarks?

STERLING: I have not. And I am a Republican. That's one of the things about this that makes it so frustrating. And I will still vote for them because some things are bigger than this. But I - when they called for the secretary to resign based on his lack of transparency - we were literally having two press conferences a day and putting out press releases, you know, hourly about how the counts were going. It's just - they are in campaign mode. They are terrified they're going to lose the Trump base, so they do not want to cross President Trump. So I feel bad for them that they're kind of stuck in that terrible box of a position because if you piss off the Trump voters, in their opinion, you lose those Trump voters. And they lose in January. But by doing it...

SHAPIRO: Given the...

STERLING: ...The lack of leadership.

SHAPIRO: Given the anger and the passion that you're expressing - and you're saying they're showing a lack of leadership - tell me about your decision to vote for them anyway.

STERLING: The future of the republic is at stake, and I, as a lifelong Republican, cannot conscience the idea of having every lever of government be with the Democratic Party right now when they have said they are going to pack the Supreme Court and do other things that I have spent my entire life fighting. My first Republican campaign was 1985 for Senator Mack Mattingly's reelection. We lost. I've been fighting for these values my entire life, and I'm not going to leave my party. I'm going to fight to make my party the party that it needs to be.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what do you see as the long-term impact of people like the president and two senators attacking the integrity of voting?

STERLING: This started in 2018, when Stacey Abrams said, I'm not conceding. I don't believe in the vote. It's being continued by President Trump in 2020, saying, I don't believe the vote. It's undermining people's faith in the democratic institutions that keep the republic sound, and all those institutions are there and need to be supported.

SHAPIRO: Republican Gabriel Sterling manages Georgia's voting system implementation.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

STERLING: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.