“Election Subversion Is the Biggest Threat We Face; There are some good safeguards in the Manchin-Klobuchar bill that should pass before we turn to Democratic wish lists.”

Bill Scher in the Washington Monthly:

However, the conservative law professor Derek Muller of the University of Iowa is skeptical that Manchin and Klobuchar’s Freedom to Vote Act would have any impact. “It does almost nothing to address election subversion,” he said via email. “The one provision expressly about election subversion forbids the removal of election local officials except for ‘gross negligence, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.’ Well, the somewhat discussed and somewhat controversial review of Fulton County, Georgia, for instance, likely already meets this standard.”

That may surprise you, as it did me. But, in fact, the new Georgia election law doesn’t give Republicans complete freedom to oust election officials without cause. A review must find that “for at least two elections within a two-year period, demonstrated nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence” (or “at least three violations” of the law or state election board rules in the last two election cycles, without remedial action taken).

Moreover, the new law creates a protracted process before any firing can occur. Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting explained in a July article that first an independent panel appointed by the state election board must conduct a performance review. If that review finds that Fulton County’s five-member election board should be suspended, the state election board would have to conduct its own investigation and then schedule a hearing to decide if the suspension is warranted. If so, the state board would install a temporary replacement of the county election board by an individual superintendent. Thirty to 60 days after such a decision, suspended commissioners could appeal for reinstatement, first to the state board, then to the state judiciary. If that didn’t work, the replacement would remain for nine months, after which the temporary official could be replaced by the Democratic-majority county government, not the Republican-led state government.

For Republicans to control Fulton County elections when the votes are being counted, they would have to time everything with the precision of a bank heist. Such a scheme would be tricky to execute. Fowler concluded, “The state hearing process alone could take up to seven months after an independent investigation is complete, pushing the timeline for a takeover—if it even happens—well into next year. Plus, Fulton would likely file legal challenges to the takeover process at some point, potentially tying things up in the courts even longer.”

The first step of the process, the independent review panel, was taken in August, with a three-person panel appointed, including one Democrat and the Georgia secretary of state’s general counsel—who happened to be one of the people the Trump tried to pressure into finding nonexistent ballots and overturning the the state’s election. Since Trump and his loyalists remain livid at the Georgia secretary of state’s office, they are not all that thrilled about the appointments. The Cobb County GOP posted on Facebook, “The 3 person panel may be stacked in favor of Fulton!”

Nevertheless, even though the process is cumbersome, Republicans in Georgia have a lot of control over it—including majorities of the state election board, the independent review panel, and the state supreme court (which could hear legal challenges at some point). Potentially counteracting that partisan tilt, the Freedom to Vote Act reasonably creates an additional opportunity for federal judges to intervene.

“You can’t stop a state’s pernicious actors from firing honest election officials,” Ornstein said, “but enabling them to sue in federal court for reinstatement is huge.” The Harvard Law School professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos concurred: “The big difference is who decides that there’s been a violation—Georgia Republicans intent on holding on to power or a (hopefully more impartial) federal judge,” he wrote in an email. “The substantive standard in the bills might be similar, but it makes a world of difference whether it’s self-interested politicians (including their agents) or a judge who applies that standard.”

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