Republicans protest bipartisan makeup of Cherokee County elections board

Early voters leave Cherokee County Elections Office on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Early voters leave Cherokee County Elections Office on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Natrice Miller /

Republicans are urging local officials to create a GOP majority on the Cherokee County Board of Elections, which traditionally has been bipartisan.

The conflict is the latest backlash in a majority-Republican metro Atlanta county where Democratic voters have been increasing in recent years. Commissioners will vote Tuesday on two key elections board appointments that could swing the balance of the board.

Four members of the Cherokee elections board are appointed by the Board of Commissioners. Historically, two appointments have come from each party. But some Republicans now want a 3-1 advantage among appointed board members.

The county commission deciding the issue is dominated by five Republican members.

At the May commission meeting, several people including Cherokee County Republican Party Chairman C.V. Dinsmore urged commissioners to solidify a GOP majority on the elections board, in part due to their frustration with the current board chair, Steve Divine. Dinsmore said the board majority should be Republican to represent the majority of voters.

The elections board chair is a fifth member who is elected by the four appointed board members.

Beth Mercure, a member of the far-right faction of the GOP called the Georgia Republican Assembly, said the elections chairman repeatedly sides with Democrats, overriding the board’s two Republicans. She also said many voters are concerned about the elections “since the steal of 2020″ — an apparent reference to former President Donald Trump’s untrue claim that he won the 2020 election.

The election board’s two appointed Republicans “are hamstrung in a red county — the last red county in the metro,” Mercure said.

But Divine said he, too, is a Republican.

“We’re going to follow state laws,” Divine said to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I do take offense to the fact that they think I’m siding with the Democrats, but I’m siding with what the law tells us to do.”

He said he believes the board should keep its bipartisan makeup.

“For 30 years, we’ve equally represented all the citizens of Cherokee County,” Divine said. “We’re thinking of all the citizens, and not a majority of them.”

Cherokee County is known to be one of the last GOP strongholds in metro Atlanta. Trump easily won the county in 2020, though President Joe Biden won 30% of the vote.

Nate Rich, chair of the Cherokee County Democratic Committee, said Democratic voters have increased steadily with population growth in the last two decades, prompting Republicans to try and keep control of one of their “bedrock” counties.

“They’re feeling the squeeze and seeing their margin shrink,” Rich said. “They’re actively taking steps to marginalize Democratic voters, and challenge Democratic voters in counties that are perceived to be their territory.”

He and voting rights activists in Georgia fear that partisan elections boards that favor Republicans may be more likely to advance mass voter challenges that could result in the disqualification of eligible voters, empowered by a new state law that sets criteria for local election boards to uphold or deny voter challenges.

“The Board of Elections doesn’t legislate; it referees. So the job is just to make sure that the game is played fair,” Rich said.

Several voting rights groups have issued letters to the Cherokee Board of commissioners, urging them to maintain the bipartisan makeup of the elections board. Nichola Hines, the president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, asked the commission to “prioritize the preservation of bipartisanship.”

“Maintaining a balanced representation of both major political parties ensures that the board remains independent from partisan influence and can effectively fulfill its mandate to serve the interests of all Cherokee County residents,” Hines wrote.

Commissioners will vote on the appointments Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in Canton.

Commission Chairman Harry Johnston said at the May meeting that there isn’t consensus on the issue among commissioners.

“One side says, ‘Well, make it match the profile of the county,’” Johnston said. “One side says, ‘Well, just because you lost the game doesn’t mean the winner gets to choose the referee next time.’”