Republican Gwinnett elections chair resists calls to step down

Kristi Royston (left), Gwinnett County Elections Supervisor, hands the final tally of Election Day votes to Gwinnett County Elections board member Alice O'Lenick (right) during a board meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Elections. O'Lenick, the chair of the board, has resisted calls to step down. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com) AJC FILE PHOTO
Kristi Royston (left), Gwinnett County Elections Supervisor, hands the final tally of Election Day votes to Gwinnett County Elections board member Alice O'Lenick (right) during a board meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Elections. O'Lenick, the chair of the board, has resisted calls to step down. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com) AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Supporters of Alice O’Lenick derided calls for Gwinnett’s Republican election board chair to resign as an example of cancel culture and limits on her free speech.

Those in support of O’Lenick stepping down said the demand came after she made partisan comments suggesting election laws should change to give Republicans “at least a shot” at winning in the next election. The request, they said, was a consequence for inappropriate statements made by someone in a position of power.

For more than three hours Tuesday, the two sides heard differing views of the intent behind O’Lenick’s comments during a meeting of the Gwinnett elections board. About 70 people spoke during the meeting, with those calling for O’Lenick’s resignation outnumbering her defenders by a two-to-one margin.

O’Lenick stood firm.

“My closing remarks are good night,” she said to the virtual audience, just before 10:30 p.m. “See you next month.”

O’Lenick came under fire after she 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 respond to a Wednesday request for comment. But in a statement read during Tuesday’s meeting, O’Lenick said she didn’t know if the county’s vote was secure and she ridiculed ballot drop boxes, put in place because of the pandemic, as “a metal box on the street.”

“Listening to the ideas of others makes for a better elections department and that’s what adults do, they encourage discussion,” she said. “I swore an oath to uphold the laws and that’s what I will do.”

Fifteen state legislators called for O’Lenick’s ouster in a letter, as did 17 voting rights and civil rights groups. In a statement that was read at the meeting, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, (D-Suwanee), said she was “dismayed,” but not surprised about O’Lenick’s comments.

What the Chairwoman proposes would drag us backwards. It’s voter suppression, plain and simple,” Bourdeaux said. “The Chairwoman’s remarks reflect a growing chorus of Republican politicians who claim that if we allow more people to vote, then Republicans will lose. It’s outrageous. We do not decide elections policy based on which political party will benefit the most.”

Two Democratic members of the elections board, Stephen Day and Wandy Taylor, said in a statement read by Taylor that O’Lenick’s attitude “violates the fundamental principles of our representative democracy, and frankly, is un-American.”

“The idea that one political party can only win by suppressing the vote of another political party is an abomination to our system of governance,” Taylor said. “Any attempt to reduce access to any of the methods of voting whether by mail, or early in person, or on election day is an attempt to suppress access to the ballot.”

Taylor’s words garnered a lot of support, both from state lawmakers and residents. Curt Thompson, a former Democratic candidate for chair of the county commission, said if O’Lenick thinks her job on the board is to “tilt the playing field,” she doesn’t understand the position.

“If she sees her role as an advocate, she should become a lobbyist or run for office,” he said.

Others defended O’Lenick calling her a hard worker.

Richard Carithers, the former chair of the county’s Republican party, called the reaction to her comments “cancel culture to the extreme,” while going on to say that there was election fraud, though there was no proof of fraud.

“Alice wants fair elections for everybody,” he said. “Get to know Alice before you condemn her.”

Edward Muldrow, the current Republican party chair who reappointed O’Lenick to the board, said he had “no fear” that O’Lenick would do anything to suppress votes.

“I’m not going to accept or put forth the idea that we need to have Alice resign at all,” he said. “I think she’s going to continue to do a great job in that position.”

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