Georgia’s chief election officer said Wednesday that he’s seeking legislation that would let the state election board set rules allowing him to intervene in troubled county election offices.
The move comes after primary elections in Georgia last week were marred by a series of problems amid high turnout and hourslong waits for many voters at some polling places.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could not provide specifics about how the process would work or what criteria would be used to deem a county’s elections in need of a takeover.
“We would be looking for that to come through the state election board and really have a deep discussion on that to make sure it’s the proper method to go forward,” Raffensperger said. “It’s not something that we’d ever take lightly.”
Raffensperger also reiterated that mail ballot applications won’t be sent out to all Georgia voters for August runoffs or for Election Day in November, as was done for the recent primaries. He cited the costs of that program and said his office instead wants to open a centralized portal where voters can apply for an absentee ballot online.
Coronavirus restrictions that limited the number of people allowed to vote at one time combined with high turnout, a lack of poll workers, and trouble with new voting equipment contributed to long lines last week. The glitches came as Georgians selected party nominees for president, a U.S Senate contest and a slate of other races. Voting hours were extended for at least one precinct in 20 of Georgia’s 159 counties.
Raffensperger focused much of the blame for problems on Fulton County, Georgia’s most populous county covering most of Atlanta and the suburbs to the city’s north and south. He spoke Wednesday in front of an Atlanta polling place that saw long lines, flanked by large printouts of news headlines about past Fulton County election issues. He’s calling for increased technical support, more hands-on training with voting equipment, an increase in the number of polling places and a push to increase early voting participation, but stopped short of calling for management changes in Fulton County elections.
Fulton County election director Richard Barron did not immediately respond to a call or text message seeking comment.
Some voting rights advocates quickly panned Raffensperger’s plan, saying he’s ducking responsibility for widespread election failures.
“Raffensberger’s buck-passing theatrics will do nothing to make voting more accessible,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action. The group, founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, is involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the state over its handling of elections.
“Further, by refusing to send mail-in ballot applications to Georgia voters, he is willfully making voting lines longer,” Groh-Wargo said in her statement Wednesday.
Raffensperger said his proposal, a draft of which is expected to be released soon, would be introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 463, a Republican-backed voting measure passed by the state Senate in March. That bill’s current proposed election law changes include letting county election officials decide how many voting machines they’ll need for certain elections. The state legislature resumed session on Monday after a three-month delay caused by the coronavirus.
A Democratic state House member representing portions of Fulton County, Rep. Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs, is proposing separate legislation that would reconstitute the Fulton County board of elections with greater oversight.
“Last Tuesday cannot happen again,” McLaurin tweeted.