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‘They Wanted Control’: Georgia Laws Push Black Democrats Off Local Election Boards

Half a dozen election county boards in Georgia have been reorganized, some pushing out Black Democrats and replacing them with white Republicans, according to a report by Reuters.

The demographic change results from local legislation passed by the General Assembly. Voting advocates and Democrats said it is meant to curtail Black voter turnout that reached historic levels in 2020 and expand Republican control of elections.

“We are talking about a normalization of Republican takeovers of local functions,” Saira Draper, director of voter protection for the Georgia Democratic Party, told Reuters.

The Republican-led Legislature approved and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that overhauled the state’s election laws in March. It was driven by unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the state. The allegations were sparked by former President Donald Trump, his campaign and supporters after the 2020 presidential election.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump, a Republican, in Georgia, while the state has historically leaned right for the past two decades. In addition to the statewide election reform bill, Republican state lawmakers passed a series of bills that changed how various county election board members are selected. They say the bills are meant to improve election integrity.

County election boards oversee the operations of the elections in their counties, but they must also report to the secretary of state. Democrats say the changes could lead to voter suppression and give Republicans more power over election certification, recounts and audits.

The Legislature redirected the power to appoint some or all election board members to local county commissions in Troup, Morgan, Pickens, Stephens and Lincoln counties, which are all currently controlled by Republicans. The appointments were previously divided between the Republican and Democratic parties, Reuters reported.

The two parties still choose four of the members in Spalding County, but the fifth member is now chosen by local judges. Those judges tend to be more conservative, according to Reuters. They replaced a Black Democrat on the board with a white Republican, increasing the Republican advantage.

Vera McIntosh, the Democrat replaced by the judges, called the move a “power grab” by local Republicans who wanted to “go back and prove the ‘Big Lie,’” or Trump’s election fraud claims, “was real.”

“They wanted control,” she said. “They got control.”

The law also required the elections supervisor to live in the county, which forced out the incumbent supervisor, Marcia Ridley, a Black woman. Two other Black female Democrats on the board quit because of the law and harassment from Trump supporters.

The new board now has three Republicans and two Democrats, one of whom is Black. U.S. Census data show 34.9 percent of Spalding County’s population is Black.

During the November 2020 election, Trump won Spalding County with 60 percent of the vote. Reuters reports Trump’s margin of victory was cut by 4 percentage points from the 2016 election as Black voter turnout jumped 20 percent.

The change in Morgan County also led to the removal of Black Democrats from the board. An ousted Black Democrat election board member in Troup County told reporters she believes the legislation was aimed at her.

Black voters saw the largest increase in voter registration out of any other racial group in Georgia in 2020, reflecting a 25 percent increase, according to Pew Charitable Trust.

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