The county’s population of some 7,690 residents is less than 30% Black and 68.3% white, according to census data.
Aunna Dennis, executive director for the nonprofit Common Cause Georgia, told the Chronicle the effort in Lincoln County is an extension of Senate Bill 202, now a law that critics argue directly targets people of color. The legislation started as a two-page proposal to make sure eligible voters didn’t repeatedly receive absentee ballot applications, but it was expanded into a nearly 100-page legislative document on March 17, 2021 and rushed through the state legislature just before the end of the session.
The bill, which Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last March, requires drop boxes to be held inside early voting sites, attaches a voter ID requirement to mail-in ballots, and in a damning blow to voting rights, gives the majority Republican Legislature more authority over local elections officials. With that control, Republican Sen. Lee Anderson, who represents a district that includes Lincoln County, sponsored Senate Bills 282 and 283, giving Republicans the power to disband the Lincoln County Board of Elections and appoint a new board in its place. That board likely would have greenlit a “consolidation” plan in the county, the Chronicle reported.
“I think there are bad actors who are wanting to pilot precinct consolidations and takeovers of elections boards in smaller counties,” Dennis told the newspaper.
Larger ones too. Lincoln County is one of six counties in Georgia that have dissolved or restructured their local election boards in the year Senate Bill 202 passed, CNN reported. At least 19 states passed 34 laws to restrict voting rights between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 7, 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Yet federal protections to ban such restrictions couldn’t make it out of the Senate.
“What’s happening in Georgia with the dismantling of these county election boards is an extreme example of the national trend in Republican-controlled states to undermine local election officials,” Jonathan Diaz, an attorney with the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, told CNN.
Just ahead of early voting for the 2021 Senate runoff in Georgia in which two Republican senators were unseated by Democrats, officials decided to cut the number of voting precincts by more than half in the state’s third-largest county, Cobb. The Georgia NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and four other nonprofit and advocacy organizations sent a letter to both elected and county elections officials in Cobb County informing them that the planned closure could potentially suppress the Black and Latino vote in the county.
“While these closures are likely to adversely affect many Cobb County voters, we are especially concerned that these closures will be harmful to Cobb County’s Black and Latinx voters because many of the locations are in Black and Latinx communities,” the organizations said in the letter.
Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said during a county legislative delegation meeting that her department has struggled to staff polling sites during the winter holiday of 2020, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We just could only staff the five locations,” Eveler said.
So local voting rights workers offered to help. “These concerns can be easily addressed and our organizations stand ready to provide you with any assistance you require, including help recruiting and training poll workers or poll managers,” activists said in their letter.
The polling sites were slashed anyway.
Fast-forward a year later after the voter suppression law was passed, and journalist Rickey Bevington, who anchors NPR’s All Things Considered on Georgia Public Broadcasting, was tweeting this experience on the day of Atlanta’s mayoral election, Nov. 3, 2021: “Today I’m experiencing Georgia’s new voting restrictions. I accidentally went to the wrong voting precinct. I’m barred from casting a provisional ballot before 5pm. Since I work until 7pm, I must go to the precinct now or my vote won’t count. Grateful to have time & a car”
A year after that, a critic of elections in the state’s most populous county, Fulton, was nominated by the Georgia Republican Party to the State Election Board. Thanks to Senate Bill 202, that board now has the power to replace the Fulton election board with an administrator, and the county is already under a performance review, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
So what does the governor do? Appoint Janice Johnston to the five-seat State Election Board effective as of Wednesday.
The fifth seat on the board has been vacant ever since the state’s new voting law removed Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from the board. Raffensperger has repeatedly defended Georgia elections against unsubstantiated claims of fraud by former President Donald Trump. Johnston, a retired obstetrician, has supported the former president’s claims, speaking of “falsified tally sheets” during an election audit in Fulton County, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Adam Harrell, cofounder of a marketing agency in Atlanta, tweeted a spot-on analysis of exactly what is at stake with Johnston on the State Elections Board.
“This stuff isn’t about election procedures,” he said in the tweet. “It’s not about appointments. It’s about a political party using its power to create advantages wherever they can, and in the process weakening our state’s institutions of democracy.”