Bill could remove Black Democrats on South Georgia election board

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia House passes bill to remake Ware County elections board

Voting rights advocates are warning that Black voters in a South Georgia county could lose representation on their local elections board under a bill advancing through the General Assembly.

The proposal is the latest attempt to change political power in county election boards across Georgia following the passage of previous bills that ended bipartisan appointments in several other counties.

The Georgia House voted mostly along party lines last week to replace the five-person Ware County elections board, which currently includes three Black members.

Under the legislation, four members of the board would be appointed by the Republican majority on the Ware County Commission instead of Republican and Democratic parties. The board’s chairperson is chosen by the other four board members.

“It’s simply going to dilute minority votes by denying representation on the election board,” said Clarence Billups, the board’s current chairman, who is Black. “Voting hours can get cut, and early voting will be something of a thing of the past as we know it, particularly hours for Saturday and Sunday voting.”

State Rep. James Burchett, a Republican from Waycross, said the Ware County election board should be reshaped so that it complies with a 2018 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled that private organizations, such as political parties, couldn’t appoint public officials to government decision-making bodies.

“Public boards exercise government control. Private entities are not elected by the constituents and are not held to the same standard that public officials are,” Burchett said Thursday before a 96-68 vote to pass House Bill 422.

Most of the county election board overhauls across Georgia have occurred since the 2020 election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump, whose supporters questioned the results, including in Ware County. Three vote counts showed Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

If the bill becomes law, political parties could still nominate election board members, but the Ware County Commission would have final authority over who gets the job. The commission would have “no obligation” to choose people nominated by political parties.

In other counties, Black election board members already lost their positions after the General Assembly removed political party appointments, including in Morgan and Troup counties.

Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group, said in a statement the bill “could allow hyper-partisan local actors to take control.”

The legislation is now pending in the state Senate.