Two Floyd County residents say their county commissioners don’t want to comply with Georgia’s new voter integrity law, Senate Bill (SB) 202.
Those commissioners’ defiance of Georgia law could ultimately cause ripple effects statewide, said Justin Seth and Terri Wright. Seth said Monday that his county commissioners could create a legal precedent that discourages statewide voters — already suspicious that their votes count — from turning out for future elections.
Floyd County made national headlines last year when its board of elections voted to fire its executive director, according to FOX 5 Atlanta. This, after election officials discovered hundreds of ballots went uncounted before the county’s initial certification.
Seth said state legislators designed SB 202 to assist with his county’s elections process.
“SB 202 would have the [county] commissioners request that a performance review take place within the [county] election board. The state election board would come down and appoint two election officials plus one official from the secretary of state’s office to review the local election board’s process, what they did, what issues may have happened, and anything regarding their performance,” Seth told The Georgia Star News on Tuesday.
“They in turn take that review and give it back to the election board who decides whether to investigate it further or take administrative action. The county commissioners instead said they will reach out to some of the local election offices and review what we did on how to improve and make things better — as opposed to going through the official side. If the screwups were bad enough then the entire election board could be removed. [But] with the method they are going with, nothing is going to happen.”
Seth said commissioners want to bypass SB 202 “to do an internal investigation with friends.”
The Star News asked Wright how it is that county officials can dodge a state law.
“Other people and I have thought about that,” Wright said.
“But they are saying there is no precedent for it yet because this hasn’t happened anywhere. You know what? It’s time to set a precedent.”
Seth said county commissioners appoint members of the local elections board.
“The commissioners are concerned that if these individuals [on the elections board] are shown to be incompetent then they [the commissioners] look incompetent,” Seth said.
“They don’t want any more headlines, like when they lost those ballots.”
County Commissioners Refuse to Speak
The Star News made repeated efforts to contact each of the five county commissioners via email late last week. Three of those commissioners — Scott Hancock, Rhonda Wallace, and Larry Maxey — responded to our emails but they declined to answer any of our questions. Instead, they referred us to County Clerk Erin Elrod.
Elrod did not respond to repeated requests for comment by email and phone.
Seth, when informed county commissioners would not speak, asked the following:
“If they are unwilling to stand up and talk about their decisions then why make the decisions if they won’t back them?”
SB 202 requires voter ID on all absentee ballots and increased oversight of local election boards that fail to follow state election law.
Seth said state legislators “toiled for months on end trying to get the bill passed.”
“It was intended to allow for confidence in our elections to be rebuilt. Counties that are going through workarounds on these election issues and not following the law when it comes to what the process is supposed to be and, quite frankly, subverting the entire process, need to be held accountable,” Seth said.
“If you aren’t willing to follow the process that was put in place to build voter confidence then there is no reason to continue being in that office, especially if you are an elected official.”
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Floyd County Administration Building” by Stephen Matthew Milligan. CC BY-SA 3.0.