The fifth and final appointment to DeKalb County’s next elections board has been made — and the leader of the local GOP is not happy, going as far as threatening to use Georgia’s new elections law to pursue a state takeover.
DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson filed her court order finalizing the next iteration of the county elections board late Wednesday, the same day the terms of existing board members expired. Local political parties submitted names for two appointments apiece, and those selections had already been made public.
Jackson was responsible for selecting the elections board’s “at-large” member. A spokeswoman for her office confirmed Thursday that she’d chosen Karli Swift to fill the spot.
Swift, a corporate attorney and podcaster who is active in Democratic politics, will take the seat previously occupied by Sam Tillman, whose controversial time as chairman capped a two-decade tenure on the board.
DeKalb is one of the bluest counties in Georgia, with about 83% of voters choosing Democratic candidates in recent high-stakes elections. The 2019 state law governing the selection of the county’s elections board members does not require that the at-large member be non-partisan.
Still, DeKalb GOP chairwoman Marci McCarthy called Jackson’s choice a “politically biased selection” that violates the “spirit” of the position. She asked that Swift’s appointment be rescinded in favor of a more “independent” candidate.
According to previous coverage by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Swift was one of Georgia’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention in both 2016 and 2020. She also has been directly involved with political action committees.
DeKalb Democrats chairman John Jackson called Swift “remarkably qualified.”
“She has a professional background and level of problem-solving ability that’ll serve well in that capacity,” he said. “Most important she has a heart for the community, which is always good for public service.”
Swift will sign a pledge to suspend various public political activities. But McCarthy said Swift’s past activism should disqualify her from the role.
“I think DeKalb is right there in line with Fulton County,” McCarthy said. “It’s time for the state to take it over. And that’s what I’m going to work toward.”
A takeover inspired by a single appointment is probably unlikely. Under Georgia’s new voting law, the State Elections Board could initiate a “performance review” on its own if there’s evidence that calls into question the competence of a local elections office. Otherwise, reviews must be requested by local officials or state legislators from the county in question.
There is not a single Republican member of DeKalb’s county commission or its delegation to the General Assembly.
The pushback against Swift’s appointment is, at least in part, likely a reaction to Judge Jackson’s rejection of one candidate initially put forth by the DeKalb GOP.
The party originally nominated a man named Paul Maner to replace Baoky Vu, the longtime Republican board member who was shunned by his colleagues after speaking out against baseless claims of widespread fraud in last fall’s election.
Jackson rejected Maner after receiving “an extraordinary number” of calls and emails about personal attacks and his past comments disparaging U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, LGBTQ people and others.
Former DeKalb County commissioner Nancy Jester was ultimately approved to fill Vu’s spot on the board.
Swift, meanwhile, will fill the seat of a man that has served on DeKalb’s elections board for more than two decades.
Tillman was a Democratic appointee to the board for years, but local Dems opted to go another direction in 2019. Tillman secured another term on the board, however, by becoming the only person to apply for the at-large seat. He was subsequently chosen as chair with support from the board’s two Republican members.
It was not immediately clear if Tillman was among the 19 applicants to seek the at-large position this time around.
While Swift is filling Tillman’s seat on the board, that does not mean she will be the next chair. The position is voted upon by board members and a decision will likely be made at their first meeting, which is currently scheduled for July 8.
NEW DEKALB COUNTY ELECTIONS BOARD
- Karli Swift (appointed by Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson; replaces current board chair Sam Tillman)
- Susan Motter (reappointed by DeKalb Democrats)
- Dele Lowman Smith (reappointed by DeKalb Democrats)
- Nancy Jester (appointed by DeKalb GOP; replaces longtime board member Baoky Vu)
- Anthony Lewis (reappointed by DeKalb GOP)