Georgia’s State Election Board held its first meeting Wednesday with a new meeting leader replacing the secretary of state and the hours-long meeting served as a sounding board for discredited conspiracy theories alleging fraud in the 2020 elections.
Election Board Vice-Chair Rebecca Sullivan served as the acting chair of the state voting board after a new law removed Secretary of State Brad Raffenspeger as a voting member of the panel.
While the reconfigured board adjusts to the rules changes and newfound power to takeover local elections boards handed to it by state lawmakers, Sullivan started the meeting thanking Raffensperger for his leadership and work done by his staff.
Sullivan will continue serving as chair of the board until the General Assembly or Gov. Brian Kemp appoints someone to the position. The new law gives the General Assembly the ability to select the majority of the state board.
“The countless hours of work they do on behalf of the secretary to support this board in their efforts to ensure fair and uniform elections in this state often is underappreciated and often goes unrecognized,” Sullivan said. “I think that I speak for the board when I say that we appreciate you very much and look forward to a continued strong working relationship with the secretary and staff as we continue our work to fulfill our statutory responsibilities.”
Following Sullivan’s nod to the deposed chairman, State Election Board Member David Worley blasted the Republican legislators who passed sweeping voting laws that led to the shakeup on the state board.
Worley vowed not to engage in any state takeover of local election boards and urged the public to keep an eye on state lawmakers who might try to replace members of the current state election panel.
“I have been a member of the state election board for 17 years,” said Worley, the lone Democratic Party appointee. “And I’ve seen many issues and problems with local elections, but I have never seen anything that would justify the State Election Board displacing members of local election boards or local superintendents.
“We already have the power, ruling on cases, passing regulations to ensure that local boards follow the rules and work effectively, and we do that at every meeting,” Worley said.
As the state election board handled a series of election cases Wednesday, commenters in the public chat room repeated unfounded accusations of widespread election fraud and voting irregularities from the 2020 election cycle when President Joe Biden narrowly upset former President Donald Trump.
Commenters watching the livestream of the election board meeting posted messages Wednesday urging others to join in lawsuits challenging the integrity of the state’s new Dominion Voting Systems machines, calling out state board members for not properly doling out punishment in election cases, and spouting accusations about a mass cover-up.
Meanwhile, secretary of sate attorney Ryan Germany said the elections division is working to meet a quick turnaround to implement new voting laws that take effect by July 1, several months before municipal elections are set to take place across Georgia.
For one, absentee ballot envelopes must meet the new requirements for proof of state-issued identification.
A working committee will wade through election rule changes before they are presented to the state board.
“I think the goal should be to have those in place prior to November, which really gives us the summer to work on rules and then post them in early, late summer of this year,” Germany said.
While he’s spoken out against losing his role as chair and a vote on the state board, Raffensperger said he agrees with the new law giving the state board the authority to temporarily take over counties with election boards with a history of problems.
Raffensperger has joined Kemp and many other Republican officials in defending the overhaul of state election laws against voter suppression claims. So far, six federal lawsuits are attempting to overturn rules critics say make it disproportionately harder for minorities and other marginalized groups to vote.
And on Wednesday, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler expressed her support for the voting changes and asked Attorney General Chris Carr to investigate whether Raffensperger acted inappropriately during the 2020 election cycle.
Carr’s office handles cases referred by the secretary of state’s office and the State Election Board.
Loeffler questioned the secretary of state’s judgement in sending nearly 7 million absentee ballot applications to registered voters during the pandemic, allowing outside organizations to provide pandemic-related grants to local elections and other adaptations during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“This request is not about the outcome of the election, but about the loss of confidence in our elections and the importance of holding elected officials accountable for upholding the law and carrying out their constitutional duties,” said Loeffler, now speaking for her new voter advocacy group, Greater Georgia.