A letter sent to the State Board of Elections on Friday and signed by pro tempore Georgian President Jan Jones and four other Republican members of Georgia House said the review is necessary “to ensure voter confidence in our elections and to help correct deficiencies in the electoral process in a county representing 10% of the state’s population.
The ability of state lawmakers to trigger a performance review of local election officials is enshrined in a controversial new election law in Georgia. The law also empowers the State Electoral Council to replace a county electoral council after conducting a performance appraisal or investigation and to install a temporary administrator with broad powers to oversee the administration of the elections and the election. counting of votes.
The actions taken by Republicans at the Georgia General Assembly this week have raised alarm bells for voting advocates, who have called the state takeover provisions as the most dangerous parts of the news. Georgian law, known as SB202.
Fulton County President Robb Pitts, a Democrat, has vowed to fight what he called the “official first step” in a “hostile takeover” of the county elections.
“We are exploring all the legal options that are on the table and I hope we will prevail against these attacks which look more like political theater than good governance,” he said in a statement.
A source close to the conversations told CNN that Pitts discussed legal options with lawyers this week, but his office declined to reveal details of a potential strategy at this point.
Former President Donald Trump and his allies have targeted Fulton County amid false claims that President Joe Biden has won the state due to electoral fraud. Biden’s victory – the first for a Democrat in Georgia in nearly three decades – was certified last December after three recounts, and judges have launched several fraud prosecutions.
Election operations in the county, which includes parts of Atlanta, have been under intense scrutiny for years. Officials oversaw a June 2020 primary plagued by long lines and complaints that voters did not receive their mail ballots. Subsequent elections, including the second round of the Senate in January 2021, however, appeared to go more smoothly.
Carter Jones, an impartial observer commissioned by the state to review Fulton County’s operations, told the state electoral council earlier this year he found signs of “systemic disorganization” in the polling station . But he said he found no evidence of “illegality, fraud or intentional embezzlement.”
In an email to CNN, Fulton County Chief Electoral Officer Richard Barron ticked off steps he has taken to make voting easier in 2020, including accepting grants to improve operations, distributing widely drop boxes and deploying mobile voting buses to reach more voters. during the pandemic. The new Georgian law prohibits or restricts these activities in future elections.
Republican lawmakers want to “repeat the lies over and over again to make people believe they are true before the 2022 primary and general election,” Barron said. “Our strategy for 2021-2022 is to improve in areas where legitimate opportunities are apparent to ensure that Fulton voters are well served. “
In Friday’s letter, Jones and other Georgia House members who requested the performance review said they recognized that he “may later become the basis for the removal of one or more officials. local elections by the state electoral commission, but believe this is a critically important step. “
State Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, a Republican who signed the Senate letter calling for a review, said “no one doubts Fulton County has had systemic problems.”
“We believe the incompetence of election officials leads to long queues and voters do not get the postal ballots on time,” he said in a statement. “This is what suppresses the votes. “
This week’s letters are the first of many steps under the new electoral law, and the final decision could take months. The State Election Commission has 30 days to appoint an independent three-person review commission.
The action in Georgia comes as Democrats in Congress seek a way to revive stalled federal legislation that would set a baseline for voting rules across the country. Several Democratic senators have also introduced a stand-alone bill that would limit the ability of state election commissions to remove local election officials – a provision that could make it a simplified election review that a handful of Senate Democrats are negotiating this week.
But any effort to change election laws faces long chances in an equally divided US Senate, unless Democrats who support the 60-vote chamber threshold to advance legislation agree to a rule change.