ATLANTA (AP) — Amid continuing Republican attacks on the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidential victory in Georgia, the state House speaker is proposing to take the selection of the state's chief election official from the voters and put it in the hands of legislators.
Republican House Speaker David Ralston said Thursday that he will seek a state constitutional amendment to change how Georgia's secretary of state is chosen.
With two-thirds approval needed by both the House and Senate, such a move is unlikely, particularly with Democrats signaling immediate opposition. If it were to pass, a majority of voters would decide the question in the next even-numbered year.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is being savaged by members of his own party, including broadsides from President Donald Trump and calls for his resignation by U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The senators are locked in contests with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for control of the U.S. Senate in a Jan. 5 runoff election.
“In a clear power grab, Ralston and the Trump campaign want to give the General Assembly the power to select winners of elections and violate the will of the people,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said.
Ralston said he was reacting to what he felt was Raffensperger’s unresponsiveness, saying the secretary has “chosen to be on his own” and that being accountable to lawmakers would “bring a closer focus.”
“The people feel like they’re being excluded by that office and they are focusing their frustrations on the members of the General Assembly,” the Blue Ridge Republican said in a news conference. “I’m getting emails, messages and phone calls not only from people in my House district but from people all over the state of Georgia.”
The attack by the most powerful leader in the General Assembly is yet another sign that Raffensperger is likely to find his office and power under siege in the legislative session that begins in January. Raffensperger was already on the outs with the speaker over his decision to send absentee ballot applications to every active Georgia voter before the June primary election.
On Thursday he also cited discontent with Raffensperger's decision to settle a lawsuit over how the state verifies signatures on absentee ballots without consulting the General Assembly, as well as a refusal by Raffensperger and his subordinates to appear at a House hearing Thursday that rehashed baseless assertions of widespread voter fraud in Georgia’s presidential election.
In the morning, Trump’s legal team, led by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, largely repeated allegations and conspiracies raised last Thursday during a similar hearing before a state Senate committee. In the afternoon, a number of Republican poll watchers and election monitors complained of procedural irregularities in some county election offices. A number of those county-level issues are already under investigation by Raffensperger's office.
Gabriel Sterling, the implementation manager for Georgia’s new voting system, tweeted Thursday that the secretary of state’s office had been advised not to appear because of ongoing lawsuits, including one where Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing Georgia and three other states before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to void their electoral votes. The lawsuit claims that improper changes to election procedures unconstitutionally disadvantaged voters in other states.
“We were advised by our attorneys not to attend because of pending litigation,” Sterling tweeted “They invited the Giuliani team which is pushing continuing disinformation. That disinformation is endangering lives.”
Fuchs said that once the litigation is over, Raffensperger's office “would be happy to testify and answer all of the committee members’ questions.”
Fair Fight, a voting rights group founded by unsuccessful 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, took immediate aim at Ralston's proposal.
“RETWEET if you believe Georgians — not politicians — should choose their Secretary of State. (Speaker Ralston said otherwise today, and he was apparently not kidding...),” the group tweeted.
Democratic state Rep. Matthew Wilson of Brookhaven labeled the proposal a sign of Republican weakness in the now-competitive state.
“Georgia Republicans are so scared of Georgia voters, they’d sooner rewrite the state constitution than allow a Democratic Secretary of State take office and work to end voter suppression in 2023,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Ralston declined to say whether he would support other proposed changes to Georgia's voting laws, such as eliminating no-excuse absentee voting, eliminating drop boxes for depositing absentee ballots, banning governments and outside groups from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters, or requiring all absentee voters to present photo identification. Senate Republicans said Tuesday they would back several of those restrictive proposals.
Biden beat Trump by more than 11,700 votes in Georgia, a result confirmed by two recounts — including an audit that triggered a full hand tally of ballots.