Gwinnett commissioners to consider support of elections board change

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Gwinnett legislators have proposed disbanding and reconstituting the county’s elections board, after statements from the current chair brought to light questions of the board’s constitutionality.

Now, the county’s Democratic and Republican parties each name two members to the board and those members agree on a fifth, nonpartisan member. But Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville and the chair of the Gwinnett delegation, said that system is a problem because the members aren’t appointed by elected officials.

A proposal that would change that could be dropped at the legislature as early as Monday.

County commissioners will decide Tuesday whether to support the legislation. A draft version proposes that the two parties continue to nominate people who would each fill two spots each, but who would ultimately be voted on by the Board of Commissioners. The fifth person would be named by the Board of Commissioners.

Park said details of the legislation are still subject to change. If it passes, it would go into effect July 1.

Gwinnett Commissioner Kirkland Carden said he has concerns that commissioners would still be forced to choose candidates nominated by the political parties. Such groups don’t have public meetings, he said, and are naturally motivated by politics.

He proposed having a board made up of election experts.

“I’m a no vote on it,” Carden said. “Being a Republican or a Democrat is not a qualification to me.”

Park acknowledged that there were still some concerns that might need to be worked out. But he said he intends to ensure both political parties have a seat at the table.

“The original intent was to eliminate political parties from the system, but I don’t think that’s realistic,” Park said. “Do I think this will be smooth sailing? Absolutely not. There will be hurdles along the way.”

The legislation can move forward even if county commissioners do not support it. Additionally, it has to get through a legislature that has focused this session on voting issues.

Commissioner Ben Ku said he’s concerned that county leaders still wouldn’t have much choice in who joins the board.

“I don’t want to replace a bad system with another bad system,” he said. “I’m not saying it is, but it could be.”

Edward Muldrow, chair of the Gwinnett Republican party, expressed support for the proposal. He was suspicious that nonpolitical, professional appointees could be found.

“I’m not sure we can take the politics out of the elections board,” he said.

The proposal comes after the current elections board chair, Republican Alice O’Lenick, was quoted in the Gwinnett Daily Post saying she was “like a dog with a bone” in her focus on changing some elections laws, including those regulating absentee by mail voting and ballot drop boxes.

“They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning,” she said at a Republican Party meeting.

O’Lenick did not return a phone call seeking comment on the new proposal.