Georgia elections board member denies plans to help Trump subvert election

A new appointee to the Georgia state board of elections has elicited questions about whether she may be part of preparations to subvert the election on behalf of Donald Trump and others who are hoping to cast doubt on results that don’t go his way.

Those fears are unfounded, she said.

The Georgia speaker of the house appointed Janelle King, a Black conservative podcast host and Republican party hand, to a critical fifth seat on the board of elections in May. The state GOP applauded the replacement of a more moderate Republican with King, seeing her as a vote for “election integrity” ahead of a critical presidential election.

But King flatly denies that she intends to interfere in the state’s elections as a board member or that she has had contact with the Trump campaign or its surrogates with regard to her appointment.

“I’ve heard several rumors about what I’m going to do or not going to do,” King said. “And the way I see it is that this is what people expect of me and what they perceive. But I’ve never been one to do anything based off of what other people want. I like being fair, I like getting good sleep at night.”

The elections board promulgates election rules, conducts voter education, investigates questions of election misconduct or fraud, and makes recommendations to the state attorney general or Georgia’s general assembly regarding elections. The five-member board has one appointee from the Democratic and Republican party and one each from the governor, state senate and state house, which now looks like a 4-1 Republican majority, although governor Brian Kemp sits outside of the increasingly radical Trump wing of the Republican party.

“The state elections board has a massive role to play in how Georgia’s elections are run and certified, especially this year in a swing state that decided the last presidential election,” said Stephanie Jackson Ali, policy director for the New Georgia Project Action Fund. “The members of the SEB could, quite literally, determine who wins in November.”

“With this appointment, I’m increasingly concerned about the future politicization of a board that should be focused on running our elections smoothly and accessibly for Georgia voters, not on moving forward an agenda for partisan gain,” Jackson Ali added.

King is a former deputy director of the state party. She has also worked on bipartisan outreach with the League of Women’s Voters. Her husband Kelvin King is co-chair of Let’s Win For America Action, a conservative political action committee that focuses on minority outreach for Republicans. Kelvin King ran for US Senate in 2022, losing the Republican primary to Trump’s preferred candidate Herschel Walker.

Janelle King hasn’t been an active participant in the swirling drama of Georgia’s election integrity politics in the wake of the 2020 election. Relative to other appointees to the board, she’s also light on experience with elections. Asked if she believed that the 2020 election was fairly administered in Georgia, she said she didn’t know.

“I believe that there were some things that are questionable,” King said. “And I believe that those things have caused a disruption in whether or not people believe in our process.”

The role will “allow me to be able to see evidence and – or the lack thereof, whatever it presents”, she added. “There were some things that were questionable. But we respect that the decision has been made, right? I mean, Trump’s not in the White House. So, President Biden is our president. And that’s where we stand.”

King joins the board at a sensitive moment in Georgia’s election cycle. Conservatives are raising questions about the competence of the Fulton county registration and elections board in Georgia’s most populous county, which includes most of Atlanta.

The state elections board voted last month to admonish Fulton county and require outside oversight through the rest of the 2024 election cycle, as a censure after discovering county elections workers violated state law while conducting a recount of the 2020 presidential election by double-counting 3,075 ballots.

The secretary of state’s office determined that the infraction did not impact election results. The results of the 2020 election in both Fulton county and the state have repeatedly been validated in recounts and in court findings.

Democratic party activists suggest that the state elections board’s focus on Fulton county is table setting for further denialism if Trump loses Georgia in November.

The speaker of the house in Georgia, Jon Burns, appointed King to succeed Edward Lindsey, a former state representative whose lobbying practice for county government and votes on the board rankled Republicans in the Trump wing of the party. Lindsey was the tie-breaking vote earlier this year against recommending restrictions to absentee ballot voting.

Rightwing organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation had been calling for Lindsey’s ouster, even as Lindsey’s term expired in March. The house failed to appoint his replacement before adjourning for the year, leaving the decision to Burns.

Burns’ appointment of King was greeted by Georgia GOP chairman Josh McKoon as “very good news” at a fundraising dinner in Columbus, where he described it as giving the board “a three-person working majority, three people that agree with us on the importance of election integrity”.

“I believe when we look back on November 5th, 2024, we’re going to say getting to that 3-2 election integrity-minded majority on the state election board made sure that we had the level playing field to win this election,” McKoon added.

The board does not certify elections in Georgia; that role belongs to county elections board and ultimately the secretary of state’s office.

“I’m only one vote,” King said. “I can’t block anything myself if I wanted to at all. And I don’t plan to interfere in elections. What I plan to do is make sure that what comes before us if there’s wrong that’s being done, then we need to address it.”

The Georgia speaker’s office denied that Burns has been contacted by Trump, a member of his staff or someone else working on behalf of his campaign with regard to replacing Lindsey on the board with someone amenable to Trump’s interest.

“Janelle King’s appointment to the state elections board was not impacted by any outside influence,” said Kayla Robertson, a spokesperson for Burns. “Janelle will be a tremendous asset as an independent thinker and impartial arbiter who will put principle above politics and ensure transparency and accountability in our elections.”

The Guardian