Georgia officials advance controversial review of Fulton County elections operations

Georgia’s state elections board on Wednesday named a three-person review panel to examine election operations in the state’s most populous county — under a provision of a new state election law that voting rights activists have warned could lead to a partisan takeover of a Democratic stronghold in this battleground state.

The panel that will review the performance of Fulton County includes a Democrat, Stephen Day, who sits on the Gwinnett County election board, and a Republican, Rickey Kittle, who is chairman of the Catoosa County elections board. Ryan Germany, the general counsel in the secretary of state’s office, is the third member.
Board members noted that Georgia’s controversial new election law required them to appoint a panel to review Fulton County’s performance once the requisite number of lawmakers from the county requested a review. Republican lawmakers did so last month.
    Sara Tindall Ghazal, a newly appointed Democratic member of the state elections panel, said the performance review board “is going to be under tremendous political pressure on both sides to come to preordained conclusions.” But Ghazal said she trusted that board members would “resist that pressure and approach their task with an open mind.”
      The ability of state lawmakers to trigger a performance review of local election officials is embedded in the state’s controversial new election law, known as SB 202. The law also empowers the State Election Board to replace a county’s election board after conducting a performance review or an investigation and to install a temporary administrator with wide authority to oversee election administration and vote counting.
        Democrats in Fulton County have decried the performance review as a partisan ploy to reduce the political power of the Atlanta area and its diverse electorate.
        “They want to dupe you into thinking that something happened in Fulton County so that they can use Senate Bill 202 to conduct a hostile takeover of our elections and appease the believers of the Big Lie,” Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a news conference last week.

          Former President Donald Trump and his allies have targeted Fulton County as they advance false claims that President Joe Biden won Georgia in 2020 because of election fraud. Biden’s win — the first for a Democrat in the state in nearly three decades — was certified last December after three counts of ballots, and judges have tossed out several lawsuits claiming fraud.
          Germany, one of the three members of the new performance review board, gained attention this year for pushing back on Trump’s fraud claims during a phone call in which the then-President urged Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes for him in Georgia.
            Election operations in Fulton County, which includes swaths of Atlanta, have been under the microscope for years. Officials oversaw a June 2020 primary plagued by long voting lines and complaints that voters had failed to receive their absentee ballots by mail. Subsequent elections, including the January 2021 Senate runoff elections, however, operated more smoothly.
            During Wednesday’s board meeting, Ghazal — who reiterated the panel appointment was mandated by law — said Fulton County officials should use the performance review “as an opportunity to have fresh eyes on their systems and their procedures and identify areas of improvement.”

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