The Georgia House of Representatives and Georgia Senate have passed two bills this week that aim to dissolve the current county board of elections, and replace it with a new board appointed under a new process.
If the bills are signed into law, most elections board members would be appointed by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.
Currently, the local Republican and Democratic parties appoint two members each. The chair is chosen by the other four members of the elections board.
The passing of House Bill 642 and House Bill 644 comes on the heels of a lawsuit against the Cherokee County Board of Elections questioning the current system’s “constitutionality,” State Rep. Brad Thomas, R-Holly Springs, told area residents at a town hall Thursday in Hickory Flat.
House Bill 644 aims to abolish the current elections board.
House Bill 642 establishes a new elections board and calls for four of the members to be appointed by Cherokee County’s governing body, under a new system.
Instead of the Cherokee Democrats and Republicans choosing members directly, local political parties would nominate candidates for the county’s board of commissioners to choose from.
The bill allows for the county chapters of the two political parties with the most votes in the last Georgia governor’s race to name nominees for two seats each for county commissioners to review. Each party would submit at least five nominees.
Like in the current process, the fifth member would be the chair, appointed by the other four board members by majority vote.
Lawmakers in the state House passed both bills Monday, and the state Senate passed them Thursday.
“We had a pretty good opinion that it (the lawsuit) would probably win and dissolve our board of elections prior to the presidential primary,” Thomas said. “A bill passed in the Senate today (Thursday) that reconstitutes a new board of elections. So, our boards will now be appointed by the board of commissioners. It will be dissolved as of June 30 and the new board will come in on July 1.”
The main complaint in the lawsuit, Thomas said, is that elections board members should be appointed by a public entity rather than private organizations like political parties.
“Constitutionally, the question that’s been called in is, does this style work? Those members need to be appointed by a public entity,” he said. “The lawsuit is ongoing, and it will probably be successful. If that’s the case, then the elections board would be dissolved immediately, and our elections would be run by the probate court judge. So, we had to take a proactive approach to reconstitute this in a different way.”
Through HB 642, Cherokee County commissioners would go through the five candidates nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties respectively. If commissioners don’t deem any nominees fit to serve on the elections board, the respective parties would nominate five more candidates for the BOC to look through.
Chairman Harry Johnston told the Tribune Friday that he has “mixed feelings” about dissolving the current board of elections.
“I’ve always kind of enjoyed being able to say that we don’t call any shots about elections — we fund the elections process with a budget, provide the facilities and equipment, but we don’t appoint the leadership or make any rules,” he said. “Some of that is going away and we would make appointments and that puts us in the hot seat on those issues that have become ever more contested. However, it makes as much sense for us to do it as anyone.”
Johnston added that the board of commissioners will take on the task of choosing board members “responsibly” and will have a “vested interest in making sure the Cherokee County elections process stands up to any challenges brought against it.”
“We will appoint people who are careful about following rules and guidelines,” Johnston said. “They’re good bills and they resolve the concerns that, if we did nothing and the lawsuit was successful sometime when the legislature is not in session, then the current elections board would be rendered invalid. Then where would we be? It just seemed prudent to move ahead and address the current lawsuit so we can have control of what happens.”
The bill goes to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, awaiting his signature.
“We need the governor to sign it more than 60 days in advance of the July 1 date, because we have to give the parties 60 days to give us the list of candidates — we don’t act immediately on things because we meet twice a month,” Johnston said. “We’d like to have 90 days to consider discussing the board appointments. So, we need him to sign it sometime soon.”
Thomas said Thursday that the appointment of the new board should not affect voters when going to the polls to cast a vote.
HB 642 and HB 644’s sponsors are made up of most of Cherokee’s local House delegation: Thomas, Jordan Ridley, Charlice Byrd, Rick Jasperse, John Carson and Mitchell Scoggins. All of the Cherokee County delegation voted “yes” for the bill, except state Sen. John Albers, who was marked “excused” according to the General Assembly website.
Our legislators, still in denial about our fairly run elections and delivered results want to stand between voters and their elections once again without asking the critical questions - what does this change repair? How many times have we heard "responsible people will take the right actions" at any time in our political history? Complete waste of taxpayer resources...
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.