In the turbulent aftermath of the 2020 presidential contest, election officials in Georgia, from the secretary of state’s office down to county boards, found themselves in a wholly unexpected position: They had to act as one of the last lines of defense against an onslaught of efforts by a sitting president and his influential allies to overturn the will of the voters.
Now state Republicans are trying to strip these officials of their power.
Buried in an avalanche of voting restrictions currently moving through the Georgia Statehouse are measures that would give G.O.P. lawmakers wide-ranging influence over the mechanics of voting and fundamentally alter the state’s governance of elections. The bill, which could clear the House as soon as Thursday and is likely to be passed by the Senate next week, would allow state lawmakers to seize control of county election boards and erode the power of the secretary of state’s office.
“It’s looking at total control of the election process by elected officials, which is not what it should be,” said Helen Butler, a Democratic county board of elections member. “It’s all about turnout and trying to retain power.”
It’s not just Georgia. In Arizona, Republicans are pushing for control over the rules of the state’s elections. In Iowa, the G.O.P. has installed harsh new criminal penalties for county election officials who enact emergency voting rules. In Tennessee, a Republican legislator is trying to remove a sitting judge who ruled against the party in an election case.
Nationwide, Republican lawmakers in at least eight states controlled by the party are angling to pry power over elections from secretaries of state, governors and nonpartisan election boards.
The maneuvers risk adding an overtly partisan skew to how electoral decisions are made each year, threatening the fairness that is the bedrock of American democracy. The push is intertwined with Republicans’ extraordinary national drive to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote, with legislative and legal attacks on early voting, absentee balloting and automatic voter registration laws.
“Republicans are brazenly trying to seize local and state election authority in an unprecedented power grab,” said Stacey Abrams, the Democratic voting rights advocate who served as the minority leader in the Georgia State House.
She added, “Had their grand plan been law in 2020, the numerous attempts by state legislatures to overturn the will of the voters would have succeeded.”