New leader for Georgia election board, but much remain same
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s State Elections Board got a new leader Wednesday in one of the first impacts of the state’s new election law, with an appointed member of the board replacing Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom the law removed from the board.
But arguments about Georgia’s elections are far from over, with a local Republican Party official calling board members “cavalier cowboys” after they voted unanimously to dismiss debunked claims that her county improperly shredded election materials.
Also Wednesday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr refused a request to investigate Raffensperger from fellow Republican and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
The continued contention over Georgia elections was highlighted in the election board meeting, the first since Gov. Brian Kemp signed the law. It gave lawmakers the power to elect a chair, but they didn’t act before adjourning, meaning the Republican Kemp is likely to appoint a new chair.
Raffensperger has been a target of former President Donald Trump’s ire, with U.S. Rep Jody Hice winning the former president’s endorsement when Hice announced a GOP primary challenge to Raffensperger. The incumbent repeatedly refuted Trump’s claims of fraud, including in a recorded phone call with Trump.
Much of the meeting continued as before, with Raffensperger’s staff preparing the agenda, advising the board and presenting evidence. Vice-chair Rebecca Sullivan, who led the meeting, pledged continuity.
“We appreciate you very much and look forward to a continued strong working relationship with the secretary and his staff,” Sullivan said as the meeting began.
Opponents say the law erects obstacles to voting. It requires people to present identification to request an absentee ballot, cuts days for requesting an absentee ballot, shortens early voting before runoff elections, provides fewer drop boxes than allowed during the pandemic, allows the state to take over county election offices and bars people from giving food and water to voters within 150 feet (45 meters) of a polling place.
One foe is David Worley, the only Democrat on the State Elections Board.
“The Republicans in the General Assembly did not like the results of the elections, and they pandered to those who’ve been convinced by the former president of a lie that there was fraud in Georgia’s elections,” Worley said during the meeting.
Supporters say the bill provides a permanent legal basis for drop boxes and expands the number of mandatory weekend early voting days. They also claim action was needed because voters expressed widespread concerns about fraud.
But the board debunked several fraud claims Wednesday. It dismissed a complaint claiming absentee ballots had improper signatures in Cobb County after an audit found only two of 15,000 ballots lacked a correct signature. One voter signed in the wrong place. A second voter’s spouse mistakenly signed the envelope, but the voter filled out the ballot. The board also dismissed a complaint claiming Cobb County improperly shredded ballot materials after a Donald Trump supporter posted a video. Investigators said only training materials and unsigned privacy envelopes were destroyed.
“A shredding truck was shredding things that needed to be shredded,” said board member Matt Mashburn, a longtime Republican election lawyer.
But Salleigh Grubbs, the newly elected chair of the Cobb County Republican Party, told board members that “we know there was fraud.”
“We don’t know what was in the envelopes,” Grubbs said. “This is a travesty of justice. This is a failure to redress our grievances and Georgia is in deep trouble with you all just acting like cavalier cowboys, doing whatever it is you want and shoving it down our throats.”
Ryan Germany, chief lawyer for the secretary of state, told the board that Raffensperger’s office is developing new forms to request an absentee ballot and a new envelope to hold absentee ballots to meet the law’s identification requirement
Germany said the office will keep using a working group to propose new rules regarding absentee ballots, scanning absentee ballots earlier, the shortened four-week runoff period, ranked-choice ballots for overseas voters, and the state’s new ability to review the performance of county election officials and take over county election offices.
Germany said the goal is to enact new rules before November.
Loeffler wrote to Carr claiming Raffensperger was “putting his political self-interest ahead of the people of Georgia,” by never fixing problems from the June 6 primary, not resolving double-voting issues and recording the phone call when Trump pressured Raffensperger.
Carr declined, saying he represents Raffensperger. “We cannot investigate our own client on these particular matters,” he said.
Raffensperger called the allegations “laughable.”
“Kelly Loeffler’s failure to convince anyone she actually was a Trump supporter is the reason Georgia doesn’t have a Republican senator or the United States a Republican Senate,” Raffensperger said.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.