FINDLAY: New Georgia Lawsuit Demands Answers To Election Officials’ Certification Questions

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Josh Findlay Contributor
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Last week, the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Julie Adams, a Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections (BRE) member, against the Fulton County BRE for interfering with Adams’s duty to review and ensure the integrity of elections under the Georgia election code.

A core element of the lawsuit focuses on whether election officials are required to certify the election regardless of whether election procedures were adhered to. Over the last couple years, the left has pushed election officials to automatically certify elections even though Georgia’s election codes clearly require reviewing election documents and procedures prior to certification. In the face of mounting pressure in the form of unfounded threats of criminal prosecution, election officials need to know how to act. AFPI is working on their behalf to make sure they get the clarity they need ahead of another presidential election by requesting injunctive and declaratory relief from the Fulton County Superior Court.

As previously reported in the Federalist, the Georgia State Election Board (SEB) reviewed a proposed rule earlier this month that would have clarified that election officials must certify an election only after completing other statutorily required duties, providing some consistency in the election code. These required duties include ensuring that the number of ballots cast matches the number of people who voted. However, in recent elections, even when county board members were denied the documents necessary to review these numbers, they were still pushed to certify.

Public debate has erupted over the understanding of this statute and similar statutes across the country, and it is exactly the kind of confusion the SEB is meant to address. One of the most important roles of the SEB is to promulgate rules that bring clarity to the election practices, which is why the rule proposal was submitted for their consideration. Although some SEB board members acknowledged that confusion over certification was a legitimate issue, ultimately the board delayed adopting the rule as written, suggesting they weren’t sure if the rule went beyond what the legislature would require. 

While it is concerning that the SEB did not adopt the much-needed rule, the reasons why are even more troubling. Member Sara Ghazal, who was appointed by Georgia Democrats to the SEB, objected to the rule’s requirement that ballot reconciliation take place before certification and that recording of votes be stopped and investigated before recording the votes in the precinct can commence. The problem with this objection is that this is already a clear requirement under the law, meaning her problem is not with overriding state legislation, but with following it. This is a profoundly concerning objection coming from a sitting member of the SEB. 

The reconciliation of the number of ballots cast and the number of people who voted is an important step in the election process. Completing this step would have prevented Fulton County Georgia from counting over 3,000 duplicate ballots in the 2020 election. Unfortunately, it is a step many election officials and administrators tend to overlook.

In Pennsylvania, the reconciliation of ballot numbers is also required by statute, but grassroots individuals in Chester County discovered that their election officials were not complying. Thanks to the respectful persistence of Chester County locals and the election of new judges, Chester County completed the process of reconciliation in their most recent primary with the smallest amount of variance since 2016.

According to AFPI’s complaint, those pressuring officials to blindly certify election argue that election officials have delegated the duty to administrators to review these types of documents. But questions remain as to whether the delegation is lawful and whether election officials also retain the power and duty to review these documents at the end of the election. These are highly important questions AFPI’s suit seeks to answer.

As election officials have begun asserting their rights, the pressure has only increased, making them vulnerable to lawsuits no matter what actions they take. More importantly, the pressure to certify too early pressures them to skirt their duty to “inspect systematically and thoroughly” the conduct of elections “to the end that primaries and elections may be honestly, efficiently, and uniformly conducted.”

A declaratory judgment from the court would help resolve this issue and prevent additional tension and dispute over the process during the 2024 election. Thanks to AFPI and Julie Adams, election officials may receive this much-needed clarification before it’s too late.

Josh Findlay serves as the Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s national Election Protection Project.  Previously, he was the first-ever National Director of Election Integrity for the Republican National Committee.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.