Georgia’s battleground state status spurs partisan elections board skirmishes

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by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

June 11, 2024

The Fulton County and Cherokee County election boards are the latest venues for Republican grievances challenging the legitimacy of vote tabulations and the partisan makeup of local boards. 

The latest election board drama is part of the lingering fallout from the controversial 2020 presidential election in which Joe Biden upset Republican Donald Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes in Georgia.  

GOP-appointed Fulton election board member Julie Adams alleged in a recent lawsuit that she was denied access to election records necessary for certification of the May 21 primary. 

In addition, the Cherokee County Commission voted last week to maintain the equal partisan split on the election board despite the efforts of the local Republican party to gain control.

Adams abstained from voting on May 28 claiming the Fulton election board had illegally permitted its staff to run elections in a county plagued by shoddy election operations in recent years.

In her lawsuit, Adams argues that election board members like herself have the authority to refuse to certify election results. After the 2020 election, a number of Georgia Republicans who embraced Trump’s unfounded claims about massive voter fraud have publicly pushed back on election boards certifying results in subsequent elections. 

Election experts predict this year’s primary provides a template for what will happen in the November general election, especially if the GOP loses in a rematch of the 2020  contest between Biden and Trump. 

Adams’ lawsuit claims she abstained from certifying the results because she was not provided access to lists of absentee ballots returned, digital images of ballots, or records showing the number of votes cast by specific Dominion Voting System machines and other election information. 

Adams is asking a judge to determine that elections board members are not required to certify results.

“It’s time to fix the problems in our elections by ensuring compliance with the law, transparency in election conduct and accuracy in results,” she said in a statement. 

According to the nonprofit group Protect Democracy, Adams’ lawsuit is doomed to fail because Georgia law does not give local board members the discretion to refuse to certify election results. The organization asserts that local election boards have a purely ministerial role in certifying election results. 

“The process of election certification is not, as Adams alleges, an opportunity for verification or auditing of the results—this happens throughout the counting and canvassing process—and there are other mechanisms in state law to address alleged errors, irregularities, or fraud,” the Democracy Project statement reads. “Adams’ refusal to certify and subsequent lawsuit marks the latest attempt by a local election official to circumvent their legal obligation to certify election results in order to disrupt election processes, spread unfounded claims about our elections, and undermine confidence in election results.”

Peter Simmons, Georgia policy advocate at Protect Democracy, said Adams’ lawsuits are part of a steady drumbeat of claims seeking to distort elections and cast doubt on the integrity of their conduct. 

Adams’ legal challenge is supported by the Trump-aligned America Policy First Institute think tank.

“We believe that all of these concerted anti-democratic efforts are intended to send a certain political message that (their) intention is to empower bad actors to overturn the 2024 election if it’s unfavorable to them,” Simmons said Friday in an interview with the Georgia Recorder.

Georgia Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams said her party will continue to counter the messages of doubt being spread by officials like Adams. 

“The Democratic Party of Georgia will continue to combat Trump’s efforts to undermine our democracy and ensure local elections are certified, which is required by law.” said the U.S. congresswoman from Atlanta.

Fulton’s politically partisan debate could mark a trend among Georgia’s local election boards. 

Local officials in Cherokee, a conservative northern suburb of Atlanta, appointed a little-known Democrat to fill one of the four election board seats that have traditionally been split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The chair of the board is selected by the other members of the board.

Cherokee Republicans failed to gain the edge they sought on the county board, while the local Democratic Party was disappointed the county commission refused to reappoint the member it had nominated to serve.

Despite the commission’s appointment of supposed “moderate” Democrat Scott Little, local Democrats questioned the legitimacy of someone they claimed had voted for GOP candidates in prior elections.

Another fight over the makeup of local election boards occurred in Spalding County in December 2021 following the passage of the state’s 2021 election law overhaul. Three Black women representing the Democratic Party on the Spalding board were replaced by three white Republicans. 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.