Under new state law, GOP ousts Black Democrat from Ware County Election Board

A person waits in line to vote in the Georgia's primary election on May 24, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

A Black woman appointed by Democrats to the Ware County Board of Elections in South Georgia has been removed from her seat under a new state law backed by Republicans.

Her replacement is a conservative known locally for defending a Confederate memorial in downtown Waycross.

Until this year, Republicans and Democrats each picked two people for the Ware County Election Board. But a new state law remaking the board gives the Republican-dominated county commission the final say.

That’s how Michael Hargrove, whose Facebook page is plastered with support for former President Donald Trump and GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker, assumed a seat that, until last week, was held by Democratic appointee Shawn Taylor. 

“I was the person they were going to take off the board because I was the person who fought against voter suppression, the consolidation of precincts, things that affect, I’ll just be honest, the Black community in Waycross,” Taylor says.

Ware County, which stretches to the Florida border, is majority white and went for Trump in 2020. But the county is still home to a sizable population of Black voters, centered in the county seat, Waycross.

Similar bills were introduced this year to remake election boards in Ben Hill, Cherokee, Columbia, Schley, Screven and Wilkes counties.

GOP sponsors say the boards need to comply with a 2018 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that found seats on DeKalb County’s ethics board couldn’t be appointed by a private entity, like political parties. 

Republican Rep. James Burchett, who sponsored the Ware County rewrite, said that court ruling set a precedent. 

“Public boards exercise government control,” Burchett told lawmakers before a vote. “Private entities are not elected by the constituents and not held to the same standard as public officials are.”

It’s still being litigated whether that ruling applies to election boards.

But the Ware County legislation goes further, stripping away any mandatory partisan balance on the board. 

Because the board’s four appointed members vote on a fifth member to serve as chair, Ware County’s once evenly bipartisan board will now be controlled by Republicans.

Ware County Commissioner Elmer Thrift, a Republican, says that makes sense.

“Ware County is more Republican than Democrat,” Thrift says. “If the county’s not fifty-fifty, I don’t feel [the board] has to be fifty-fifty.”

Elsewhere, heavily Democratic counties like Fulton and DeKalb still require two Republican appointees. 

Fulton County, for example, also gives the county commission the responsibility to make the final appointments. But the commissioners have to rely on the nominations of the top two parties. If they don’t like them, they have to go back to the parties and ask for more names. The commission can’t toss the party’s suggestions out and go their own way, as Ware County is now allowed to do.

Taylor says she was given no notice that the commissioners were voting to remove her from the election board at the May 8 county commission meeting.

“I believe that this whole thing is another way of the GOP taking control of the elections so they can turn Georgia red again,” she says.

Now off the board, Taylor says she still plans to show up at the meetings and keep educating her neighbors about voting.