ATLANTA — Republican lawmakers in Georgia have started a process that could lead to a takeover of elections in the state’s most populous county.
Fulton County, a reliably Democratic county containing 11% of all the state’s electorate, has been plagued with problems for years and Republicans say it’s time for answers. State House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and four other GOP state representatives whose districts include parts of Fulton submitted a letter last Friday to the State Election Board demanding a performance review of the county’s board of registration and elections.
“I wrote the letter as a representative of constituents who have expressed concerns over the sloppy manner in which elections were conducted in Fulton County in 2020 and in the years leading up to then,” Jones, who represents a suburban north Fulton district, said.
Three Republican state senators representing parts of Fulton, as well as 24 other GOP senators, sent a slightly different letter this week.
“The people deserve better and I want to see a comprehensive review and plan for improvement,” state Sen. John Albers, also from north Fulton, wrote in an email.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Hogan said in a statement that the takeover effort is “a shameless Republican power grab designed to suppress voters and inject partisan politics into our elections.”
Under the law that Georgia Republicans passed earlier this year, the letters could lead to the State Election Board removing Fulton’s five-member election board. But there remains uncertainty about how the process would work.
“The critics of it are alleging that this allows the board to just willy-nilly take over boards and change the results of elections, but there’s a lot of due process that’s built into this,” said State Election Board member Matt Mashburn, a Republican.
GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger expressed support.
“I appreciate the General Assembly finally supporting my movement that something needs to be done in Fulton County,” said Raffensperger. He has vigorously defended Georgia’s 2020 election results, but frequently criticizes Fulton.
Mallory Blount, a spokesperson for Kemp, said the Fulton board has chronically shown “poor management and incompetence.”
“This review process will hopefully provide greater transparency, ensure local accountability and restore voter confidence,” Blount said.
Under the new law, the state election board must mount a preliminary investigation and hold a hearing within 90 days of a request. The state board could suspend the county board if it finds evidence county officials violated state election law or rules three times since 2018 and haven’t fixed violations. It could also remove the county board if it finds that during at least two elections over two years the board has shown “nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence.”
The State Election Board, currently with a 3-1 Republican majority, would appoint a temporary administrator to run Fulton elections if it finds wrongdoing. The county board could seek reinstatement. If the state board refuses, its administrator would remain in place for at least nine months.
The state board must set rules for the process.
Mashburn said Fulton has done some “great things,” but said that since he began working in election law in 1988, “Fulton has been the problem, every single election.”
Mashburn called Fulton’s long lines in the June 2020 primary election a “watershed moment.” The county spent millions to alleviate those problems.
The State Election Board entered into a consent order with the county to make changes for the general election, appointing independent monitor Carter Jones.
After observing from October through January, Jones wrote that he witnessed “sloppy processes” and “systemic disorganization.” He concluded major changes and a managerial shakeup were needed.
Democrats say Jones’ findings prove Fulton’s problems don’t merit a takeover.
“We already have a report from the secretary of state’s hand-picked consultant saying there was no malfeasance,” Tindal Ghazal said.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts, a Democrat, claims these are Republican efforts to subvert Fulton County elections in 2022 and 2024.
“I will not let them get away with this circus unopposed,” Pitts said in a statement. “We are exploring every legal option that is on the table and I am hopeful we will prevail against these attacks that look more like political theater than good governing.”