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New laws shift power in local election boards

Bills adopted with little debate give GOP greater control

ATLANTA — Nine Georgia counties have new laws on the books that are changing the makeup of local election boards. Critics said some of the laws – signed by Gov. Brian Kemp this spring – ensure that Republicans control the boards.  

Some of these bills passed the legislature last year with little to no public debate. Critics said they should have gotten more scrutiny than they did.

County election boards often have to make tough calls on election controversies like election recounts, poll locations and more.

"We oversaw the entire election process basically," said Democrat Helen Butler, who is getting pushed out of the election board in Morgan County.  

This spring, lawmakers quietly passed legislation that created or changed election boards in nine Republican Georgia counties. Most of them give control of those boards to Republicans – eliminating Democrats like Butler, who served for ten years on Morgan County’s election board.

"The majority is always going to rule. But of course you can stack that majority," Butler said. In Morgan County, the GOP-led county commission will decide the board's makeup.

RELATED: Georgia election law explained: Here's what the law does, doesn't do

"They’re going to pick who is going to go along with their ideology," said Lonnie Hollis. 

Another bill removed Democrat Hollis from Troup County’s election board.

Because the bills are considered local and not statewide legislation, they often get passed quickly and without much debate in the chambers of the House and Senate  -- if local lawmakers give their blessing. 

For voters, it means Republicans in most of those counties will have the clout to make final decisions about where precincts and absentee drop boxes are located – among other key local election decisions.

"Because Georgia turned blue, they’re afraid they're going to get voted out of office, or they’re afraid they’re going to get more Democrats elected," Hollis said. "So they’re going to try to suppress the vote."

11Alive News tried but was unable to reach several of the Republican bill sponsors.  We’re told that Republicans argued that their bills would eliminate dysfunction and partisan infighting on local election boards.


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