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Elections officials fear Georgia law could politicize voting operations By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Protest in opposition to House Bill 531 in Atlanta

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By Julia Harte and Joseph Ax

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Election officials in conservative and liberal elements of Georgia say a brand new law permitting a Republican-controlled state company to take over native voting operations could make the method too partisan.

Voting rights advocates have additionally warned that the supply, a part of sweeping voting restrictions signed into law final week by Governor Brian Kemp, targets Democratic bastions resembling Atlanta’s Fulton County that helped ship the celebration management of the White House and Congress in current elections.

The new law has largely gained consideration for its measures to strengthen absentee poll identification necessities, curtail poll drop field use and penalize members of the general public who provide meals and water to voters in line.

Months after former Republican President Donald Trump falsely claimed voter fraud within the 2020 elections, Republican backers say Georgia’s law is required to revive confidence in election integrity. Civil rights teams have filed three lawsuits asserting the law illegally restricts voting rights, significantly for minority voters.

The laws authorizes the Republican-majority legislature to nominate the state election board’s majority whereas demoting the elected secretary of state, Georgia’s high election official, to a non-voting place.

It additionally permits the state board to take away native supervisors it deems derelict and change them with people of its selecting.

That energy has alarmed Democrats and civil rights organizations in gentle of Trump’s unprecedented strain marketing campaign to overturn the ends in key Democratic counties.

But even some election officials from Republican-leaning counties mentioned they opposed permitting the state board to take over native elections, a Reuters survey of the state’s 159 counties discovered.

‘DANGEROUS PATH’

Of the 55 that responded, officials in 11 counties of various sizes and political leanings – Bartow, Macon-Bibb, Cobb, DeKalb, Floyd, Heard, Jones, Murray, Paulding, Quitman and Tattnall – mentioned the law gave the state an excessive amount of management over election administration. Traditionally, domestically appointed nonpartisan or bipartisan boards and judges oversee points resembling voter eligibility, polling place areas and vote certification.

“If we don’t rely on and hire smart people with institutional knowledge, and the process becomes politicized, then we go down a very dangerous path,” mentioned Baoky Vu, a Republican on the DeKalb County elections board.

Election officials in 12 different counties didn’t categorical issues with the law, whereas 32 officials declined to remark.

Georgia is amongst a number of battleground states, together with Florida and Arizona, the place Republican lawmakers have pushed new voting restrictions they are saying will curb voting fraud, regardless of analysis displaying such cases are uncommon within the United States.

Voting rights advocates say some efforts are supposed to punish election officials who, like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, rebuffed Trump’s demand to vary the election final result.

Asked for remark, Kemp’s spokeswoman pointed to a Fox News column the Republican governor printed on Wednesday, arguing that the law “makes it easy to vote by expanding access to the polls and harder to cheat.”

The invoice’s primary Republican sponsors within the legislature didn’t reply to requests for remark.

The law underscores how deeply Trump’s fraud assertions have penetrated his celebration. A Reuters/Ipsos ballot in February discovered 62% of Republicans have been “very concerned” that elections have been tainted by ineligible voters.

‘FRANKLY SCARY’

Some election officials mentioned that removed from enhancing belief in elections, the law could diminish native oversight.

Joseph Kirk, the elections supervisor in Bartow County, which Trump gained by 50 share factors in 2020, mentioned he discovered it “frankly scary” the state would change a bipartisan native board with a political appointee.

“You’re basically allowing the general assembly to appoint people who may not know anything about running elections,” mentioned Deidre Holden, the elections supervisor in closely Republican Paulding County.

But in rural Lowndes County, elections supervisor Deb Cox informed Reuters the brand new measure would enhance upon the present oversight procedures for election mismanagement.

Aklima Khondoker, Georgia state director of All Voting is Local, a voting rights group, mentioned she has heard from election officials that some are afraid to criticize a measure that successfully permits state lawmakers to take away them from their jobs.

The law, she mentioned, is “holding our counties hostage.”

Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University, mentioned unproven voter fraud allegations could theoretically function the premise for suspending an area official. The law cites lengthy traces as a motive for doable intervention, although its different provisions will possible worsen waits in populous counties, she added.

“The question is, how are these decisions going to be made?” Steigerwalt mentioned. “What type of ‘malfeasance’ or ‘nonfeasance’ might someone be accused of?”

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