What is it with Georgia Republicans and voting rights?
That question, of course, is rhetorical—since screwing with voting is a way to maintain control in a state whose demographics are shifting out of their favor, but they’ve already changed voting laws so many times that you’d think they’d done enough damage.
After caping for Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” in 2020, Georgia Republican legislators passed election reform bills in 2021 and 2022 that created new barriers for voters, such as limiting ballot box locations and banning volunteers from handing refreshments to voters waiting in long lines. Additionally, this included new responsibilities for Georgia’s 159 county election boards, which must comply with the legislature even as they receive no funding from the state to help them. On Monday, the GOP-controlled Georgia House of Representatives poured gas on the fire they started, passing a new measure which—if it becomes law—would ban county election boards from receiving grant funding from outside the state.
GOP lawmakers nicknamed the measure “the Zuckerbucks bill”, a reference to billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a donor to a charitable fund that gives grants to local election boards in Georgia and elsewhere. They argue that the money is designed to unfairly influence elections (the irony) and needs to be limited.
But some local officials who run elections in their counties have a different take. They say the bill intentionally makes it difficult to comply with all of the state’s new election rules. The grants they’ve applied for have nothing to do with Zuckerberg and instead are only to fund their efforts to comply with election mandates put in place by the same legislators who refuse to fund them. Two election board chairs from counties in the Atlanta area told The Root they believe the bill is just a secondhand attack on Black voters.
“They have one of the largest, most Democratic and most African-American counties getting funding and improving efficiency and innovation [in voting], that threatens their ability to reduce the difference by which Republicans have lost Georgia,” said Dele Lowman-Smith, who chairs the DeKalb County Board of Elections in suburban Atlanta. “This is all about trying to control the outcome of elections, period.”
Among the unfunded mandates the Georgia legislature has put in place since its first major election overhaul in 2021: county election boards now have to ensure that all election-day vote tallies are reported to the state by 10 p.m. on that day, even though polling places in Georgia don’t close until 7 p.m. and state law requires anyone in line by that time be allowed to vote, which could delay the tallying process. The Georgia legislature also passed a measure that allows any registered voter to file bulk registration challenges, meaning any one individual can request a list of a county’s entire voter lists and possibly get thousands of their neighbors kicked off the rolls. Lowman-Smith and Omega R. Finney, who chairs the Henry County election board in south suburban Atlanta, both said that law has allowed what appears to be coordinated efforts to purge voters from the rolls, but their staffs have no choice but to follow up on the challenges.
All of this is made more difficult by the structure of Georgia’s county election boards, which both officials said are universally understaffed and underfunded. Henry County’s election department has a full-time staff of three or four people to serve almost 170,000 registered voters across 37 polling places. DeKalb County has 17 filled positions, and 10 vacant ones, serving roughly 550,000 voters.
“We need additional staff, we need overtime to meet those mandates and we do not get additional monies from the state,” Finney said.
Both officials said they’ve tried to explain the problem to members of the legislature, but to no avail. The measure now moves on to the state senate, which is also Republican-controlled and expected to pass it.