Groups express concern over Raffensperger's comments

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Sep. 21—WASHINGTON, D.C. — States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward sent a letter this week to the Georgia State Election Board expressing serious legal concerns regarding Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's recent threat to seek the removal of all five members of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections based on the county's selection of Cathy Woolard as chairwoman of the Fulton BRE.

The letter explains that Raffensperger's political disagreements with Woolard are an insufficient basis to suspend or remove the Fulton BRE members.

The letter warns that any attempt to seek the suspension or removal of the Fulton BRE members based on Woolard's appointment would be contrary to Georgia Senate Bill 202. The newly-enacted law requires that specific standards must be satisfied prior to any election official being suspended or removed, none of which are satisfied by the secretary's disapproval of Woolard's previous political affiliations.

While the secretary of state does not have any power under S.B. 202 to initiate the process for removing board members, his comments may prove unduly influential. They inject partisanship into the process and have the potential to shape the state's separate, ongoing review of the Fulton Board of Elections that includes the secretary of state's chief counsel as a member of the review panel.

"Though Secretary Raffensperger lacks the power to initiate the process for removing board members under S.B. 202, his threat underscores how the controversial bill could be used to inject partisanship into election administration," Ranjana Natarajan, senior counsel at the States United Democracy Center, said. "As Georgia navigates this new election landscape, it's critical that trusted local election officials remain able to administer elections without partisan interference."

The Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections is made up of five members: two Democratic and two Republican appointees, and a chair appointed by the County Commission. During the hearing to select Woolard as chair, both Democrats and Republicans supported her qualifications to serve as chairwoman.

"Undermining the bipartisan selection of Cathy Woolard to serve as chair of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections seems to have no legal support," Mel Barnes, staff counsel at Law Forward, said. "S.B. 202 does not authorize review or removal based on political disagreements. If S.B. 202 is going to continue to inspire this kind of political theater — it's deeply concerning and something we all must keep an eye on. The future of our democracy is at stake here."

Earlier this year, the States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward released a report, "A Democracy Crisis in the Making," which analyzed the nationwide trend of partisan state legislatures trying to seize control over election administration. The report put a spotlight on bills like S.B. 202 that increase the potential for partisan interference in our elections.

"S.B. 202 is part of an alarming nationwide trend of state officials attempting to interfere with trusted local election administrators by grabbing power for partisan ends," Sara Chimene-Weiss, counsel with Protect Democracy, said. "Last week in Georgia, we saw first-hand how some leaders may use the law for partisan games. Even so, any efforts to use it must follow existing law that clearly defines various procedures and terms within it."

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