Over the past 10 days, Georgia Republicans rushed a voter suppression omnibus bill that will make it much easier for the state legislature to overturn elections in the future.
The bill removes the Georgia secretary of state as the head of the state election board and directs the legislature to appoint the board’s leader. Two of the other four members of the election board are already chosen by the legislature, so this would give the legislature a voting majority on the body, which has wide and deep oversight over election administration in the state.
“This is extraordinarily dangerous,” Sara Tindall Ghazal, former election protection director for the Georgia Democratic Party, told Mother Jones. “When you’re appointing the majority of the body that you’re responsible to, it’s self-dealing.” Georgia’s legislature is controlled by Republicans due to strong conservative gerrymandering over the state.
The bill also gives the state election board sweeping powers over county election boards, including the authority to dismantle those they view as unfit and to replace them with their own appointed superintendents, who have full control over how elections operate in their counties.
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“It’s looking at total control of the election process by elected officials,” Democratic county election board member Helen Butler told The New York Times. “It’s all about turnout and trying to retain power.” The elections board serves more of an executive function in the process, but the new bill gives legislators majority power over the agency.
The county election officials were, as The New York Times described it, “one of the last lines of defense” against attacks on elections and the will of the voters during the 2020 election. The vast majority of county officials fended off a coordinated effort by conservative Texas-based True the Vote to challenge the eligibility of 364,000 voters in Georgia. That move was “one of the oldest tricks in the voter suppression playbook,” American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia attorney Sean Young told AJC.
Not only would the new legislation likely lead to the appointment of county officials who are more sympathetic to such partisan moves, but it would also see voter eligibility challenges taken more seriously, even if they’re essentially spurious. The bill allows unlimited challenges to voters’ eligibility and forces local election boards to hear them within 10 days, which could lead to hastily thrown out ballots or voter roll purges.
Georgia’s voter suppression bill also includes provisions to limit the number of ballot drop-offs, add voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots, and outlaw passing out food and water in voting lines.
Voting rights experts say that former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party may have had more success in the many election challenges if these laws had been in place during November’s election. “Republicans are brazenly trying to seize local and state election authority in an unprecedented power grab,” former Georgia state representative and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams told The New York Times. “Had their grand plan been law in 2020, the numerous attempts by state legislatures to overturn the will of the voters would have succeeded.”
“It will make what we all lived through in 2020 child’s play,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, head of Fair Fight Action, earlier this week in a press call. “Donald Trump won’t have to strong-arm our election administrators. The most radical fringes of the Republican Party sitting in the state legislature will be able to wipe out boards of elections, challenge voters because they don’t have the right name according to them or they don’t look the way they think they should look. This is Jim Crow 2.0.”
It’s not just happening in Georgia. Republicans are considering similar power-grabbing maneuvers in at least seven other states — in other words, the same officials who claimed that the 2020 election was fraudulent are now launching attacks on those who stopped Trump from committing election fraud.
Now that they’ve passed a sweeping bill in Georgia, Republicans are likely emboldened to seek similar changes elsewhere. Over the past months, the GOP has been looking into exporting similar bills in Georgia and Arizona to other states — and, with a win in hand, they might succeed.