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Political experts question new election law provision that removes secretary of state from elections board

Under the new law, the General Assembly will elect a non-partisan chairperson to lead the state elections board.

ATLANTA — Two provisions within Georgia's new elections law are causing political experts to raise an eyebrow. 

One of the provisions removes the Secretary of State as the chairperson of the State Elections Board and the other allows the state board to take over local election systems that are “underperforming”.

Under the new law, the General Assembly will elect a non-partisan chairperson to lead the state elections board.

Emory University political science professor, Dr. Andra Gillespie said it could potentially be problematic.

“Because they’re being appointed by a partisan elected body, that suggests that they may feel a certain level of accountability to the general assembly as opposed to the people of Georgia,” said Dr. Gillespie.

She said that’s something critics may worry about, if the state board can fairly take over a local election system.

The law doesn’t call out any specific counties when outlining the state’s ability to take over local systems but it speaks generally of counties with long-term problems such as lines and processing absentee ballots.

Critics suspect these provisions target Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold in Georgia that saw issues during the primaries last June.

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“They lay out guidelines where if you’ve had multiple election cycles where there are problems, that that could be grounds for a takeover and that does seem to be pretty tailormade to perennial problems that Fulton County had in reporting elections,” she said.

GOP strategist, Brian Robinson, is a strong supporter of SB 202 and he said if anything, a state takeover helps all voters.

“If counties are consistently having a problem with long lines, slow service at the polling station, that’s what needs to be fixed because that’s what, in fact, is suppressing votes,” he said. “If counties can’t fix it, the state needs to step in and do the right thing.”

However, he doesn't agree with removing the secretary of state as the state board of elections chair.

“If we’re going to say that Georgians have the vote to determine who the secretary of state is going to be and that person gets to run our elections, then let’s empower that person to run our elections, so I just disagree with that decision. I think it’s shortsighted,” he said.

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Dr. Gillespie said perhaps it could’ve helped if the law limited how long the chair could be in power.

“Some of this could be alleviated if the board chair was appointed to a term that doesn’t look like a state legislative or gubernatorial term, like a five-year term or a ten-year term,” she said.