The Jackson County Board of Elections needs to be fixed, but not in the way local Republican leaders want.

Local GOP officials last week called on the state to change the way the local elections board operates to allow it, the Republican Party, to take it over.

Republican leaders want to name the chairman of the board and to have a majority of members on the board so it can control the levers of local elections.

That takeover was clearly the real intent in 2018 when then-GOP chairman Ron Johnson convinced Rep. Tommy Benton to change the board form a non-partisan, 3-member board to a hyper-partisan 5-member board. 

Local GOP leaders don't want a fair elections board, they want a board that will tilt local election rules and systems toward the outcome they want.

GOP leaders have actively sought to interfere with the mechanics of local elections by pushing to purge local voter rolls even if doing so violates state law. 

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If you don't believe that local Republicans have nefarious motives behind their attempts to control the county elections board, then consider the evidence:

• Johnson lobbied and had himself appointed chairman of the elections board just before it became a partisan group, then he violated state law by remaining as chairman while also serving on a state GOP committee. Local election board chairmen are not supposed to be affiliated with a particular party, but Johnson clearly was a GOP activist and used his time in office to push the GOP agenda. While serving as chairman, he called for local voter rolls to be purged, then pushed back when told that couldn't be done without following state law. 

• Following the November election, GOP elections board member Jeff Hughes voted against certifying the county's voting results. He didn't give a reason for that vote, but it was clearly due to his party's allegiance to The Big Lie that the national election was rigged and stolen from President Trump. That idea is false — the election wasn't stolen — but Hughes followed the GOP playbook even though he knows there was nothing wrong with Jackson County's election results. In fact, the county voted 79% in favor of Trump. His vote against certification was nonsense.

• Before the Jan. 5 runoff election, local GOP leaders — executive committee  members TJ Dearman, David Wortham, Kathy Wortham, Mandy Page, Jon Howell and Ron Johnson — signed a declaration demanding that the county elections board delay certifying the county's voting results until after Dekalb County certified its results. At the local certification meeting, GOP board members Ewing and Hughes did as they were told by the GOP and voted against certifying local election results. But as elections board chairman Eric Crawford pointed out during that meeting, there was nothing wrong with the county's results and those results had nothing to do with Dekalb County. Even GOP chairman Dearman said on social media that there were no local voting problems (he had poll watchers at all four locations.) Voting against the county's election results was nothing more than extreme partisanship by Hughes an Ewing who just wanted to throw a public temper tantrum.

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All of this is crazy.

And unnecessary.

Jackson County is a Republican stronghold. If local GOP leaders had their way, their own party would have been hurt by withholding certifying the county's election results. Nearly 80% of voters cast a vote for Republicans on Nov. 3 and again Jan. 5. Voting against certification only hurts Republicans.

There was zero basis for Ewing and Hughes to object to certifying the results and deny county voters a voice in those elections. In effect, the GOP wanted to disenfranchise every voter in the county no matter who they voted for.

Just think what would happen if local Democrats were attempting to manipulate the machinery of our elections as the county GOP is attempting to do. Heads would explode in rage and the same Republicans who are attempting this takeover would be screaming.

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Jackson isn't the only county in the area that's seeing this kind of extremism from local Republicans. In neighboring Gwinnett County, the GOP chairman of that county's elections board has come under fire for her comments about elections and her vote against certifying that county's election results.

Chairman Alice O'Lenick has called on the state to change election laws so that Republicans "have a shot at winning" in the county, which has transformed from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic-majority county.

Those comments, and others, has led to a large number of Gwinnett political leaders calling for O'Lenick's resignation.

The Big Lie fomented in 2020 is doing so much damage across the nation.

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Yes, it's time to reform Jackson County's elections board, but rather than hand it over to local Republicans who want to manipulate it for partisan gain, the board should once again become a non-partisan group.

Take partisan party politics out of the elections board and give that board back to people who don't have an ax to grind, people who care about having fair and honest elections and who don't want to play partisan games with the results.

Currently, the two local parties nominate members to the elections board and those are officially appointed by the Superior Court Judge.

Take the parties out of that process. Let the judge make appointments based on criteria other than partisanship loyalty.

What Ewing and Hughes have done on the county's board of elections this year doesn't reflect democracy, it's an attempt at autocracy — it's un-American and dumb.

The majority of people in Jackson County want a nonpartisan elections board that is honest and fair, not one that is made up with party hacks.

What local GOP leaders are doing in their attempt to control the elections board is the way the communist party works in China — total control and brokering no dissent or other parties.

Boys, move to Beijing if that's how you want to live.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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(3) comments

William Ledford

Mr. Editor

Why stop your article at the local level. Party politics is alive and well in DC. When one party holds up a bill that is to help the American people and small business, because they are afraid it would help reelect President Trump, I would say that is party politics at its worst. We need term limits. No one should hold office for over forty years, even for thirty years. Also we need limits on how much lobbyist can give to our elected officials.

Candy Sweppenheiser

Great article! You've stated it fairly and honestly. I am a registered Republican and I applaud this great piece of reporting. Keep up the good work.

Jean Biddle

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