WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Georgia Senate recently confirmed a new member to the board that oversees elections in the Peach State. But the appointment of Rick Jeffares, a former Republican state senator, to the State Election Board is courting controversy because of his history of allegedly promoting conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election.
In a 32-17 party line vote on Friday, the Republican-controlled Senate appointed Jeffares to sit on the State Election Board. The five-member panel is in charge of enforcing election rules and regulations and investigating complaints about the election process. The board was thrust into the national spotlight in the aftermath of the 2020 election when it investigated unfounded claims of fraud pushed by far-right politicians and conspiracy theorists.
Jeffares, who is filling a position previously held by retired federal Judge Bill Duffey Jr., has an alleged history of promoting claims of fraud that were debunked by the board he is now serving. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that Jeffares “posted Facebook memes in November and December 2020, when Republican Donald Trump was contesting his loss, that suggested dead people had voted by mail, claimed the Democrats and China had colluded, and implied that Democrats had cheated.”
In a speech opposing Jeffares’ nomination, Jason Esteves, a Democratic state senator from Atlanta, said that, “It is nothing short of dangerous and irresponsible to empower conspiracy theorists on the State Election Board. This nomination will only serve to further those theories and undermine the people’s confidence in Georgia’s elections.”
Jeffares’ confirmation, which gives Republicans a 4-1 majority on the State Election Board, comes at a time when the state Senate is moving a controversial bill that would empower the board to investigate how Georgia’s secretary of state handles elections.
On the same day it appointed Jeffares, the Senate backed a bill that would give the board more control over Georgia’s elections, including the power to investigate and remove Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), from the board. (He currently serves as a nonvoting board member since the 2021 omnibus voter suppression law removed him as chairperson and restructured the board.) Jeffares isn’t the only new addition to the board. The Senate also appointed Waffle House vice president Jon Fervier as the board’s new chairman, replacing retired judge Bill Duffey Jr., who stepped down in September.
Raffensperger was a central figure in the 2020 election process in Georgia. He ordered an audit of the state’s elections and certified President Joe Biden’s victory, despite pressure and calls to resign from fellow Republicans. And, in a nearly hour-long phone call, former President Donald Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes, enough for him to win the state.
Raffensperger said that the bill approved by the Senate last week violates the state’s constitution, and his general counsel, Charlene McGowan wrote that, “There is no precedent for an unelected board of political appointees to have oversight authority over members of the executive branch,” according to the Associated Press.
The bill now moves to the state’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives for more debate, before the House votes on whether to send it to Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.