If interlopers control county election boards, they can quash all efforts to restore election integrity
You might recall my June 30 Substack entitled, “Kemp’s Private Political Party Makes Its First Move-The backstory to understand these events.” In that article I observed that the Republican establishment has been steadily losing favor with authentic conservative Georgia Republican voters. As a result, in county after county the Republican establishment has been losing seats and influence on local GOP committees, handing power over to Trump-supporting, MAGA-aligned Republicans. Seeing his own strength in the Republican Party diminishing, Governor Brian Kemp has taken steps to shore up a base of political and financial support using unorthodox, proprietary methods. Those methods include legalizing private political corporations with abilities to make unlimited campaign contributions to statewide office holders, while also providing other political services within the counties, such as working to maintain control over valuable county election board appointments. In the last paragraph of my Substack I summed it up this way,
“Thus, we see in these events the beginning of a pattern, in which forces backing Georgia Governor Brian Kemp are effectively attempting a private takeover of the Georgia Republican Party. That takeover is apparently being accomplished through increasingly controlling the Republican representation normally present within the members constituting county election boards…So, even though the apparent make-up of the Georgia Republican Party, including an overwhelming number of county GOP’s, has become decidedly “Trumpian” and “America First,” establishment Republicans, led by Kemp, are making a play to “wag the dog,” exerting political influence at the county level to place their own people onto election boards where vital decisions, such as whether to resist using Dominion voting machines, would be made.”
Fulton and Cherokee were the first two counties in which this political chicanery, a tactic of grabbing hold of election board seats by the outgoing establishment, has been used successfully.
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But since writing that piece, it has come to my attention certain events related to a county board of registrations and elections (BRE) vacancy being filled in my own home county of Forsyth, for the term beginning September 1, 2023. Concerning that vacancy, the following facts are undisputed:
1. The 4‑year term of service of Board of Elections member, Joel E. Natt, expires August 31, 2023.
2. Forsyth County Code, Article III, Section 2(b)(2), which mirrors Georgia Law, provides a mandatory legal process for appointing a member to the Board of Elections.
3. According to that code section, “A political party appointment for membership on the board shall be made by the chairperson of the county executive committee of the political party nominating a qualified candidate and the candidate’s nomination being ratified by a majority of the members of the county executive committee voting at a regularly scheduled meeting of the county executive committee or a meeting duly called and held for such purpose.”
4. On or about November 22, 2022, less than three months prior to the end of its term of office, the Forsyth County Republican Party Executive Committee met via Zoom to discuss various agenda items. One item turned out to be the party nomination of a candidate to serve as a Forsyth County BRE member for a new 4‑year term commencing September 1, 2023, the outgoing county GOP chairman making a grab for that open seat a full nine months into the future. During that conference, County GOP Chairman Jerry Marinich purportedly informed the members of the committee that he would nominate present BRE vice-chairman Joel Natt to succeed himself at the expiration of his present term, again, nine months hence, a term which would not begin until six months after the end of Marinich’s own term as county GOP chair. That action, the effect of which would prevent the incoming executive board from selecting a BRE member more in keeping with prevailing GOP attitudes, is the same kind of political chicanery we have recently seen in our neighboring counties. Likely not having the votes to ratify his choice for the BRE, those attending the meeting advise that the GOP chairman claimed all authority necessary to nominate the new BRE candidate himself, alleging it was his decision alone to make, in his capacity as county party chairperson. According to certain of those present, the chairman took no nominations for the position, neither asking for nor receiving a second for his nominee, took no vote, and thereby received no ratification by a majority of the members of the county executive committee, as the Forsyth County ordinance and Georgia law require.
5. The GOP Chairman soon advised Forsyth County outside Attorney, Ken Jarrard, of the name he apparently personally and unilaterally nominated for the County Commission to appoint to fill the expiring BRE slot to begin September 1, his nominee being Joel Natt.
6. On February 2, 2023, during a regular meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, Attorney Jarrard presented the name given him by the GOP chairman for appointment to the elections board. Based upon the information they received from Mr. Jarrard, the commissioners considered the name of Joel Natt, and although the term of office would not commence for another 6 months, the commissioners rubber-stamped the Natt nomination, unanimously appointing him to serve a new 4‑year term, succeeding himself in that position on September 1 of this year.
Unbeknown, at least to several members of the Forsyth County GOP Executive Committee present during the Zoom conference last November, the GOP chair actually had no lawful power to personally and unilaterally nominate the next BRE member to the board of commissioners. He had only the power to suggest a nominee to the executive committee, who, according to state law and an identical county ordinance, would have to ratify his selection prior to it being presented to the Forsyth County Commission for final appointment. And so, just as it happened in Fulton and Cherokee Counties, it appears certain individuals within the establishment wing of the Republican Party have taken steps to thwart the will of a county Republican Party, the latest victim being Forsyth, and place an establishment favorite, Mr. Natt, on the county election board.
Is there wrong-doing here?
As of this point in the narrative, I considered no one on the Forsyth County Commission, nor its outside counsel, to have acted outside of his or her proper role or authority in the lawful, legal process of appointing a member to the county BRE. It seemed to me that, although citizens might expect their county commission to at least ask a question or two concerning an important board nomination such as this, especially for a board position that far into the future, facts not revealed to them on February 2, 2023 certainly couldn’t be held against them…or could they? As you will learn below, it turns out I was wrong to assume the Forsyth County Commission had no culpability in this apparent unlawful set of events.
Forsyth GOP gives notice to commissioners of non-compliance with the law
During the third week in May, almost three months ago, well within the time frames of the applicable statute referenced above, newly-elected Forsyth County GOP Chairperson, Mendy Moore, representing the recently-elected GOP Executive Committee and committee at-large, informed the Forsyth County Commission, via Attorney Jarrard, that a non-legal process, evading the law, had been followed in November resulting in an unlawful nomination of Mr. Natt to the BRE. That revelation brought with it an entirely new set of principles, both legal and ethical, for the Forsyth BOC to consider and untangle, which, reasonably, it would have to do without delay, to remain in compliance with the legal appointment process to which all of these players are bound, outlined within the Forsyth County Code and Georgia law cited above and below.
Possible ethics violations
Regarding county ethics rules, according to Forsyth County Ordinance Sec. 2–64, entitled, “Code of ethics for members of boards, commissions, authorities, elected officials, and county department heads,”
“(b)Any member of a county board, commission, or authority, and elected officials and county department heads shall: (1) Uphold the Constitution, laws, and regulations of the United States, the state, the county, and all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.”
Thus, Forsyth County Ethics Rules do not allow members of the board of commissioners to become involved in evading the law, in any way, without each of those involved becoming a party to the law’s evasion, in so doing committing possible ethics violations. If the nomination process evades the law, and the commissioners knowingly allow it, they evade the law as well.
Furthermore, regarding potential actions of the county’s outside counsel, State Bar of Georgia Code of Conduct, specifically, Chapter 1 under Ethics and Discipline, rule 4 under “A Lawyer’s Responsibilities,” requires that,“it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.”
Upholding legal process is important because doing so aids in manifesting an equitable outcome with respect to the intent of the law. Evading legal process would have an opposite effect. According to the Georgia Bar Association, attorneys are not allowed to knowingly bypass legal process, such as, for example, the legal process involved in nominating and appointing a BRE member. Thus, if the legal process involving a board nomination evades the law, and if the attorney guiding the county commissioners responsible for appointing these members knowingly ignores that fact, thus failing to uphold legal process, that attorney could also be in violation of state bar ethics rules.
Therefore, upon receiving reliable information that Mr. Natt’s nomination for the Forsyth County BRE was unlawful, based upon the failure of the previous county GOP chair to adhere to “legal process” outlined in the Forsyth County Code and Georgia law, according to the State Bar of Georgia rules, a case could be made that Forsyth County’s outside counsel would possess an inherent duty to uphold the legal process evaded by the GOP Chairman in November. Accordingly, should non-compliance with the legal process be verified, the attorney’s ethical duty would necessitate notifying the commission members that Mr. Natt’s nomination evaded the law, was therefore unlawful on its face and should be nullified.
As time is of the essence, once satisfied with the prospect that new information coming from Ms. Moore was truthful, from all appearances county attorney Jarrard became obligated by statewide ethical standards to advise the commission that the legal process was indeed not upheld, and that the board should act to officially void the appointment of Mr. Natt without delay, and await a new nomination from county GOP chair Moore. According to Ms. Moore’s letter, she would ensure the nominating process be in keeping with the law, adhering to all mandatory legal process. Thus, a case can be made that, according to the Georgia Bar, should the county’s outside counsel provide guidance to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, to knowingly accept an unlawfully-nominated candidate to take position as a board member of the BRE, that advice could easily be interpreted as a violation of an inherent ethical responsibility of any Georgia lawyer, subjecting such an attorney to possible ethics deliberations as well.
Oh, But, Not So Fast!
Last month, according to Forsyth Commissioner Alfred Johns, speaking with me directly, county Attorney Ken Jarrard has “provided guidance” to the commission members that the question whether the nomination by the now ex-GOP chairman was derived unlawfully, “is not completely clear.”
Thus, as I write this column in mid-August, two weeks before the new four year BRE term begins, there exist two claims over the right to nominate the next Forsyth County BRE member, one by the former GOP Chairman Marinich, out of office since March, having reportedly received no ratification by the executive committee, and unilaterally declaring his nomination to the commissioners nine months in advance of the beginning if the next term, versus the other by the active chairperson Moore, her nomination ratified as the law requires, in ample time to make the appointment according to the above statute.
Still, at this time the county attorney continues to “provide guidance” to the commission that it “is not completely clear” who is right. Perhaps from the county attorney’s perspective, the question whether the original nomination was lawful is a genuine concern. I will give him that. But if his concern were genuine, there would be ways to discover who is right and who is wrong according to the law. He could simply convene and ask the question of those who took part in the November Zoom meeting whether the provisions of law were followed. Why hasn’t that happened? Well, according to several commissioners, speaking directly to me, they feel it is simply not their job to certify the work of the Forsyth GOP. According to those commissioners, it’s solely the GOP’s job. But is that really the case?
So, who’s Job is it really to certify legal process is followed in appointing BRE members?
As it turns out, I was mistaken expecting that the Forsyth County Commission could plead blameless in this election board appointment fiasco, as are those board members who so contend. The Forsyth Code of Ordinances makes it clear that the Board of Commissioners bears a substantial burden to exercise due diligence prior to certifying any appointment to the BRE. According to the Forsyth County Code of Ordinances, Section 4, rather than rubber-stamping any name the county attorney presents to the board of commissioners, as was done in February with the name of Mr. Natt, that body is required to actually perform some work. That is because the law requires the board of commissioners to CERTIFY the political party making a nomination followed all the rules provided in the law. The law does not allow the commissioners to simply assume all legal processes have been followed when a nomination is read aloud by the county attorney during a meeting of the board:
Section 4. — Certification of appointments.
(a) The appointment of each member shall be made by the county governing authority filing an affidavit with the clerk of the superior court, no later than 30 days preceding the date at which such member is to take office, stating the name and residence address of the person appointed and certifying that such member has been duly appointed AS PROVIDED IN THIS ACT.
Certifying a nominee to the board of elections would not be a difficult or time-consuming activity for the county commission to undertake. Certification of a nominee could be done by a political party in question supplying a duly-enacted resolution empowering its executive board members to act according to the lawful provisions afforded it, embossed with the party’s official stamp, along with an accompanying letter, signed by the chairperson and a majority of the executive board members voting in the affirmative for the nominee, their signatures duly notarized. That’s all it would take for the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners to comply with its own election board appointment ordinance. But that body wants us to believe operating in compliance with their own ordinance would not only be difficult, but also an exercise in government overreach.
Forsyth County Commissioners refuse to answer
I have conveyed this information, and more, in writing, to each Forsyth County Commissioner. Furthermore, I have spoken personally with each member of the commission, some more than once. As you will hear in the video below, Commission Chair Alfred Johns would only say that the board is being guided by county attorney Ken Jarrard. No matter how I phrased my questions to the chairman, that they are being guided by the county attorney would be his only answer, apparently careful not to say anything Mr. Jarrard had not pre-screened. Conversations like this beg the question, whether Forsyth County is being managed by elected board members, or by an unelected county attorney.
Subsequently, I addressed the commissioners directly at the August 3rd meeting (start video at 5 min:10 sec) allowing public participation. After that meeting, Commissioner Cindy Jones would only say to me that county attorney Ken Jarrard doesn’t agree with me, and, similar to my conversation with Chairman Johns, she was careful not to say much of anything else. But I will give Commissioner Jones credit. Very thankfully, Ms. Jones offered that she asked Mr. Jarrard to answer my concerns in writing, a request to which, according to Ms. Jones, Mr. Jarrard responded he would do if directed by the board.
I have also heard from Commissioner Todd Levent, who like Ms. Jones, has also requested my concerns be answered by Attorney Jarrard.
The other three commissioners, Johns, Semanson and Hill appear stonewalling against answering legitimate concerns, but why? Why would our elected board of commissioners care whether a citizen receives an answer to his questions? Is there some man behind the curtain pulling the levers of Forsyth County Government? Are these individuals working to protect a questionably-lawful BRE appointment? Are they just plain stubborn? I confess, I do not know. But I will say this, I do not like it when the commissioners Forsyth County voters elect to run their government are afraid to speak openly, without legal filtration, to the voting public, feeling the need to appeal to their attorney, who they will not authorize to speak either.
So this is where we are, two weeks before Mr. Joel Natt strolls into his 4‑year appointment on the Forsyth County Board of Elections. If nothing more happens in all of this, the seat will be his.
That begs the question, what would be so awful were Mr. Natt, incidentally now finding support from the Forsyth County Democratic Party, to take his seat for the next four years on the Forsyth County Board of Registrations and Elections? The several answers to that question will be the subject of my next Substack, one you will not want to miss.