LaGRANGE, Georgia – Lonnie Hollis has served on the Troup County’s Electoral Committee in western Georgia since 2013. As a democrat and one of two black women on the board, she spoke out in favor of the Sunday election, helped voters on election days and moved to a new district in a black church in a nearby town.
But this year, Ms. Hollis will be removed from the board, the result of a local electoral law signed by Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican. Previously, the members of the electoral board were elected by both political parties, the district commissioners and the three largest municipalities in the Troup district. Now the G.O.P.-controlled district commission has sole power to restructure the board and appoint all new members.
“I speak out and know the laws,” said Ms. Hollis in an interview. “The bottom line is that they don’t like people who have any kind of intelligence and know what they’re doing because they know they can’t influence them.”
Mrs. Hollis is not alone. Across Georgia, at least 10 district electoral committees have been dismissed, removed from office, or are likely to be dismissed by local ordinances or new laws passed by the state legislature. At least five are colored and most are Democrats – although some are Republicans – and they will most likely all be replaced by Republicans.
Ms. Hollis and local officials like her were some of the earliest casualties as Republican-led parliaments took on a major takeover of election administration in a series of new voting bills this year.
G.O.P. Legislature has also stripped secretaries of state of their power, exercised more control over state electoral boards, facilitated the overturning of election results, and conducted several partisan reviews and inspections of the 2020 results.
Republican lawmakers have tabled at least 216 bills in 41 states to give lawmakers more power over election officials the United Democracy Center of the United States, a new bipartisan organization that aims to protect democratic norms. Of these, 24 were enacted in 14 states.
G.O.P. Lawmakers in Georgia say the new measures are in place aims to improve the performance of local bodiesand reduce the influence of political parties. But the laws allow Republicans to remove local officials they dislike, and since some of them were black Democrats, franchise groups fear these are further attempts to disenfranchise colored voters.
The maneuvers risk undermining some of the core controls that served as a bulwark against former President Donald J. Trump as he tried to undermine the 2020 election results. If these bills had come into effect after the election, Democrats say, they would have greatly increased the turmoil Trump and his allies created by attempting to overturn the outcome. They fear that proponents of Trump’s conspiracy theories will soon have much greater control over the levers of the American electoral system.
“It is a barely veiled attempt to wrest control from the officials who oversaw one of the safest elections in our history and to place them in the hands of bad actors,” said Jena Griswold, chairwoman of the Association of Democratic State Secretaries and the current one Colorado Secretary of State. “The risk is the destruction of democracy.”
Officials like Ms. Hollis are responsible for making decisions such as choosing mailbox and district locations, sending out election notices, setting early polling times, and certifying elections. But the new laws also target senior state officials, particularly foreign ministers – both Republican and Democratic – who stood up against Trump and his allies last year.
Republicans in Arizona have introduced an invoice that would largely deprive Katie Hobbs, the Democratic Secretary of State, of her powers in election lawsuits and then expire when she resigns. And they have tabled another bill that would give the legislature more power in setting guidelines for election administration, an important task currently being carried out by the Foreign Minister.
Under Georgia’s new electoral law, Republicans severely weakened the office of Secretary of State after Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who is the current secretary, rejected Mr Trump’s demands to “find” votes. You have dismissed the State Secretary as chairman of the state election committee and relieved his voting rights on the board.
Republicans in Kansas in May Overwritten a veto by Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, to pass laws that deprive the governor of changing electoral laws and prohibit the Secretary of State, a Republican who repeatedly vouch for the security of postal votingto settle election-related lawsuits without the consent of the legislature.
And more Republicans holding onto Mr. Trump’s election lies are run for Foreign Minister, making a critical office accessible to conspiracy theorists. In Georgia, MP Jody Hice, a Republican who voted against confirming President Biden’s victory, is running against Raffensperger. Republican candidates with similar views run for secretaries of state in Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan.
“In virtually every state, every polling officer will feel like they’re under the microscope,” said Victoria Bassetti, a senior adviser with the United Democracy Center in the United States.
In the short term, it is local election officials at district and community level who are either deposed or robbed of their power.
In Arkansas, Republicans were stabbed last year when Jim Sorvillo, a three-time state official from Little Rock, lost re-election by 24 votes to Ashley Hudson, a Democrat and local lawyer. It was later revealed that election officials in Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock, accidentally tabulated 327 postal ballot papers in the counting of votes, including 27 from the district.
But last month the Arkansas Republicans wrote a new law allowing it a state electoral committee – Consisting of six Republicans and one Democrat – to investigate and “take corrective action” on a variety of issues at every stage of the electoral process, from registration to voting and counting to confirming elections. The law applies to all counties, but it is widely believed to be directed against Pulaski, one of the few in the state who favor Democrats.
The draftsman, State Representative Mark Lowery, a Republican from the suburbs of Little Rock, said it was necessary to deprive local authorities, who are Democrats in Pulaski County, of electoral power as otherwise Republicans could not do justice.
“Without this law one could only have turned to the prosecutor, who is a Democrat and may not have done anything,” Lowery said in an interview. “This gives another level of investigative power to a state-mandated body to oversee the elections.”
When asked about last year’s election, Mr. Lowery said, “I think Donald Trump was elected president.”
A separate new Arkansas law enables a state board to “take and hold elections” in a county if a legislative committee determines that there are questions about the “appearance of an equal, free and impartial election”.
In Georgia, lawmakers passed a unique law for some counties. For Troup County, State Representative Randy Nix, a Republican, said he only tabled the bill to restructure the county electoral committee – and remove Ms. Hollis – after the county commissioners requested it. He said he was not worried that the commission, a party body made up of four Republicans and one Democrat, could influence the elections.
“The commissioners are all elected officials and will face the electorate to answer for their actions,” Nix said in an email.
Eric Mosley, the district manager for Troup County, which Mr Trump scored 22 points, said the decision to ask Mr Nix for the bill should make the board more bipartisan. It was unanimously supported by the Commission.
“We believed that the true intent of the board of directors was to choose the removal of both Republican and Democratic representation and the real selection of members of the community who invest heavily to serve those members of the community,” Mosley said. “Our goal is to create both political and racial diversity on the board.”
In Morgan County, east of Atlanta, Helen Butler was one of the state’s most prominent Democratic voices in terms of voting rights and election administration. As a member of the county electoral committee in a rural Republican district, she also leads the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a group dedicated to protecting the voting rights of black Americans and empowering their community.
But Ms. Butler will be removed from the county board at the end of the month after Mr. Kemp signed a local law ending the ability of political parties to appoint members.
“I think this is all part of the local electoral board takeover trick that state lawmakers put in place,” Ms. Butler said. “They say that they have the right to say whether an electoral officer is doing it right, even though they do not work on a day-to-day basis and do not understand the process itself.”
It’s not just Democrats who are being removed. In DeKalb County, the fourth largest in the state, Republicans decided not to nominate Baoky Vu to the electoral board again after more than 12 years in office. Mr. Vu, a Republican, had written a letter to the Democrats who had spoken out against an election-related bill that was ultimately not passed.
To replace Mr. Vu, the Republicans nominated Paul Maner, a well-known local conservative with a history of False statements, including a reference that the son of a Georgia Congressman was killed in “a drug deal gone wrong”.
Back in LaGrange, Ms. Hollis tries to do as much as possible in the remaining time on the board. The additional precinct in nearby Hogansville, where the population is roughly 50 percent black, is a top priority. Although the city only has about 3,000 residents, the city is divided by a railway line, and Ms. Hollis said it can sometimes take a long time to clear a freight car line, which is problematic on election days.
“We’ve been working on it for over a year,” Ms. Hollis said, saying the Republicans had put procedural hurdles in place to block the process. But she was not deterred.
“I’m not going to sit there and wait for you to tell me what to do for the voters there,” she said. “I’ll do the right thing.”
Rachel Shorey contributed to the research.