OPINION: Incivility rules at election board. Even prayers are called out

William Duffey, chairman for the State Board of Elections, receives questions from the public written in a paper during a meeting on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez for the AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez for the AJC

William Duffey, chairman for the State Board of Elections, receives questions from the public written in a paper during a meeting on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Ed Lindsey, a member of the punching bag also known as the State Election Board, knew the panel was in for it during the invocation.

“Our chairman got catcalled over the prayer,” said the one-time GOP state legislator. “If that happens, you know it’s going to be a long day.”

It was.

The room at the state Capitol was packed with election deniers, “Stop the Steal” enthusiasts, amateur election-fraud sleuths and self-proclaimed “patriots” who soon launched into their own versions of reality. They remain absolutely certain Donald Trump was done wrong by Georgia’s political higher-ups and those wicked Dominion voting machines.

That is par for the course in such meetings. Self righteousness often rules and the public comment period is when they get their chance to speak “truth” to power. Some of the rhetoric is performative, conspiratorial — everyone knows that board appointees are simply minions waiting to get paid off — while some of it is heartfelt, although often wrong-headed.

It is peculiar how the same machines that supposedly stole the election from Trump in 2020 allowed Georgia Republicans up and down the ticket to absolutely trounce Democrats two years later.

But back to the prayer and civility.

The Election Board’s chairman is Bill Duffey, a former U.S. Attorney and federal judge appointed to both jobs by George W. Bush.

Last Tuesday, as he walked into the board meeting, Duffey noticed the crowd seemed “agitated,” he told me this week. “I felt the potential for disruption is high.”

Judges, especially the federal variety, don’t like disruption. They are all powerful in their courtroom. You know the old joke: What’s the difference between God and a federal judge? God doesn’t think He’s a federal judge.

But Duffey is no longer in that divine position, so he had a plan to help assuage the gathering. In his comments to start the meeting, Duffey noted the U.S. has lasted this long because of the rule of law and mutual respect. He tried to employ the we-Americans-are-all-in-this-together strategy.

“Democracy is best exercised when there is decorum and people don’t speak over each other and interrupt,” he told the crowd, later adding, “While there might be disputes and disagreements, we ask that everyone be charitable toward each other.”

And the white-haired Protestant prayed what was kind of a version of one of those COEXIST bumper stickers:

“To the God which we believe, whether it’s a Christian God, or a Muslim God, or a Jewish God, or any other God of any other faith, we ask that you be present with all of us, including those who have no faith at all. We’d like for everybody to be comforted by that which they call on for comfort.”

He went on, but he had already lost the gathering. Several attendees were, no doubt, offended by mention of a Muslim God or Duffey giving a nod to heathens.

The crowd went on, speaker after speaker, to bash election authorities, demand paper ballots, describe instances of perceived fraud and even scold Duffey for referring to “democracy” when he should darn well know that America is a republic.

Then Linda Menk ambled to the microphone. Menk is a former Coweta County School Board member who caused a stir after attending Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and saying the deadly attack on the Capitol “smells like a false flag,” meaning it was staged by left wingers, not Trumpers.

She tore into Duffey & Co. saying they were taking orders “from Governor Kemp, Ratsperger and Chris Carr,” who are “as crooked as a cat’s leg and everyone in this room knows it.”

The comments drew a howl of applause. She was, of course, referring to Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr — Georgia’s Triumvirate of Traitors, as seen by the Trump-or-die fanatics.

Menk was just getting warmed up.

Former Coweta County School Board member Linda Menk criticizes State Election Board Chairman Bill Duffey for his prayer.

Credit: Georgia state video

icon to expand image

Credit: Georgia state video

“The other thing I’d like to admonish you on is your prayer, the invocation,” she said, pausing for effect. “Are you kidding me?!? The only thing you left out was Satanism. Why didn’t you include that?”

Actually, he also didn’t mention Buddhists and Hindus. But I get it. Much of the crowd wanted Jesus God.

“I wanted people to focus on what united us,” Duffey told me later. “Obviously, that didn’t work.”

Later on, Sondra Martin of Cherokee County, said “that was a non-prayer. And it included non-gods. I believe God has me up here to warn you He will not take blasphemy lightly. Be warned.”

And, while you’re at it, He also wants hand-marked paper ballots that are hand-counted on election night at the precinct.

I called Menk and she said she was offended that Duffey was not using the same God who is mentioned when a public official takes an oath of office. “The last four words are ‘So help me God,’ " she said. “It doesn’t ramble off to these other faiths and religions.”

“He decided he wanted to be popular,” she added. “That is not his job, to placate other religions.”

Menk mentioned God and “oath of office” several times and I repeatedly said he wasn’t swearing anyone in, he was simply trying to soothe a crowd.

“You obviously don’t get it, sir, and I can’t help you,” she said, hanging up.

God help us.