New rules planned for Georgia election takeovers and absentee ballots

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, center, is shown leading a State Election Board meeting in Athens in March 2020. Georgia's new election law removed Raffensperger from the board, which met for the first time under that statute Wednesday on Zoom. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, center, is shown leading a State Election Board meeting in Athens in March 2020. Georgia's new election law removed Raffensperger from the board, which held its first meeting Wednesday on Zoom since passage of the law.
is no longer a member of the boardmembers prepare for an emergency hearing at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The hearing will decide whether Athens election officials broke state laws when they switched to paper ballots filled out by hand. [Photo/Austin Steele for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, center, is shown leading a State Election Board meeting in Athens in March 2020. Georgia's new election law removed Raffensperger from the board, which met for the first time under that statute Wednesday on Zoom. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, center, is shown leading a State Election Board meeting in Athens in March 2020. Georgia's new election law removed Raffensperger from the board, which held its first meeting Wednesday on Zoom since passage of the law. is no longer a member of the boardmembers prepare for an emergency hearing at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The hearing will decide whether Athens election officials broke state laws when they switched to paper ballots filled out by hand. [Photo/Austin Steele for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

The State Election Board confronted Georgia’s new voting law Wednesday, which left the board without a chairperson and forced it to consider when to use its newfound power to take over local election offices.

The voting law ousted Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as the board’s leader and gave it the authority to remove underperforming county election officials.

The lone Democrat on the board, David Worley, warned that the law could have far-reaching consequences if state officials interfere with elections.

“I for one will never use the power that the General Assembly has given us to displace local boards of elections, and frankly, I do not believe the other current members of this board will either,” Worley said. “I will urge the citizens of this state to keep a careful eye on the membership of this board and watch carefully what happens next.”

The board is made up of three Republicans and one Democrat, appointed by the state House, Senate and each political party. Lawmakers didn’t choose a replacement for Raffensperger as the chairman of the board before this year’s legislative session concluded last month, leaving an interim appointment to Gov. Brian Kemp, who hasn’t taken action.

The voting law removed Raffensperger, a Republican whom GOP lawmakers blamed for then-President Donald Trump’s loss after he mailed absentee ballot applications to nearly 7 million voters last spring and rejected allegations of fraud after the presidential election.

Republican members of the board thanked Raffensperger’s office, which will continue to oversee and certify elections, help draft regulations and set agendas even though he’s no longer a board member. But they didn’t join Worley after he said he wouldn’t intervene with county election management.

“I think I speak for the board when I say that we appreciate you very much and look forward to a continued strong working relationship,” Rebecca Sullivan, the board’s acting chairwoman, said of the secretary of state’s office.

The board will now begin crafting regulations required by Georgia’s voting law, including provisions for performance reviews of county election offices, instant runoffs for military and overseas voters, and redesigned absentee ballot forms that include space for newly required ID numbers.

The law replaced signature verification with requirements that voters submit a driver’s license number, state ID number or other documentation when requesting and returning absentee ballots.

Rules will be developed in time for municipal elections in November, according to an attorney for the secretary of state’s office.

The board also reviewed dozens of cases involving election irregularities over the past several years, often referring them to the attorney general’s office. Violations of state election laws could result in fines, reprimands, letters of recommendation or criminal prosecution.

Election allegations referred to the attorney general’s office

  • Several voters in Crawford, Jackson and Stephens counties allegedly voted twice in an election. Some said they forgot they had already voted or didn’t believe their absentee ballot would be counted, and then local poll workers failed to stop them from casting a second ballot.
  • A Cobb County gun store held a raffle to win a rifle for anyone who showed an “I voted” sticker.
  • A Forsyth County business allegedly offered a free termite inspection to anyone who voted for Republicans in January’s U.S. Senate runoffs.
  • State Rep. Roger Bruce, a Democrat from Atlanta, allegedly handed out snacks at a polling place while wearing a shirt saying he was a state representative.
  • A voter refused to remove a hat supporting Donald Trump inside a Bacon County polling place after he was asked to do so by a poll worker.
  • Over 860 voters were assigned to the wrong state House district in DeKalb County. The error didn’t change the outcome of elections won by state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat from Atlanta.

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