Georgia Secretary of State Threatens to Remove Election Board After It Appoints New Leader

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger threatened to remove Fulton County's entire elections board after a new leader was appointed in spite of his opposition, the Associated Press reported.

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday voted to make Cathy Woolard, a former Atlanta City Council president, chair for the county's Board of Registration and Elections.

Raffensperger called Woolard's instatement a "blatantly political appointment" since she had enrolled as a lobbyist for the Fair Fight Action group started by Democrat Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a race for governor against Republican Brian Kemp in 2018. He said in a press release that he would attempt to remove the elections board by invoking a provision in a new Georgia election law.

"Fulton County needs to think again before appointing someone who is bought and paid for by Stacey Abrams to run elections in Fulton County," Raffensperger said in the release, adding that it would "do incredible damage to the already terrible reputation Fulton has for running elections."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Cathy Woolard to Head Georgia Elections Board
Commissioners in Georgia's Fulton County have picked a former Atlanta City Council president to lead the county's elections board. Above, former Atlanta City Councilwoman and Elector Cathy Woolard holds documents as members of Georgia's Electoral College cast their votes at the state Capitol in Atlanta on December 14, 2020. John Bazemore/AP Photo

While Abrams hasn't said she's running, she's widely expected to challenge Kemp to a rematch next year.

Board of Commissioners Chair Robb Pitts, who has often traded barbs with the secretary of state, said Woolard is a longtime public servant who's well qualified for the role. He accused Raffensperger of "playing political games."

"I wish we had a Secretary of State who cared as much about Fulton County's voters as he did about winning his upcoming primary, but unfortunately we do not," Pitts said. "Thankfully, here in Fulton County, we now have Ms. Woolard to fill the void where his leadership has failed."

Commissioner Lee Morris, a Republican, said he asked Woolard about her work for Fair Fight, and she said she did not do any actual lobbying for the group, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

"All she really did was introduce some folks from here to there," Morris said.

Fulton County, which is home to about 11 percent of the state's electorate, is a Democratic stronghold that includes most of the city of Atlanta. It has a long history of election problems and has been a consistent target for Republicans. After the county's primary election last year was marred by problems, an independent monitor was appointed as part of a consent order reached with the State Election Board.

That monitor observed Fulton County's election processes from October through January and wrote that he witnessed "sloppy processes" and "systemic disorganization" but did not see "any illegality, fraud or intentional malfeasance."

Former President Donald Trump zeroed in on Fulton County after narrowly losing Georgia in the November general election, claiming without evidence that fraud in the county aided President Joe Biden's victory. He also heavily criticized Raffensperger for not acting to overturn his loss, and has endorsed U.S. Representative Jody Hice who's set to challenge Raffensperger in the Republican primary next year.

The State Election Board last month appointed a three-person review panel to investigate Fulton County's handling of elections after receiving requests from Republican lawmakers who represent the county. The lawmakers were using a controversial provision of the state's sweeping new election law that provides a path for a state takeover of elections in a county.

In addition to serving on Atlanta's City Council, Woolard also ran unsuccessfully to be Atlanta mayor four years ago and served as a member of Georgia's Electoral College delegation in December. She thanked Pitts and other commissioners for their support after they chose her for the job.

"My experience as a candidate and as presiding officer of the Atlanta City Council gives me perspective and context for the challenges we face as voters and public servants conducting safe and fair elections," Woolard tweeted. "I look forward to getting started."

The Fulton County election board is made up of two Democratic appointees, two Republican appointees and a chair who is appointed by the Board of Commissioners.

Georgia Secretary of State
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger threatened to remove Fulton County's elections board after former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard was appointed as its leader. Raffensperger speaks onstage during 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on January 20, 2020, in Atlanta. Paras Griffin/Getty Images