The General Assembly in 2021 changed the leadership of the Georgia State Election Board by requiring a nonpartisan chair be appointed by the General Assembly. William S. Duffey, Jr., a judge who retired from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, was appointed chairman and has been serving since June 2022.  InsiderAdvantage Georgia commissioned attorney Carolyn Roddy to interview Judge Duffey to explore how the Election Board is handling its new responsibilities.   

Judge William S. Duffey

InsiderAdvantage:  The State Election Board has been tasked with expanded duties under the Election Integrity Act of 2021, often referred to simply as SB 202.  Could you tell us a little about how the Board’s new role and what it means for future Georgia elections? 

Judge Duffey: The duties are broad. It is charged with the duty and authority to promote uniformity and integrity in elections in Georgia, and to assure that those who are involved in the elections process comply with the laws of our state. One primary responsibility is to investigate complaints of conduct that violates board rules and Georgia law. The statute provides for complaints to be investigated by the board, although the board has the authority to assign complaints to the Secretary of State investigators for investigation on behalf of the board. The number of complaints increased substantially in the past few years. In 2019, there were 55 complaints filed. In 2022, 374 complaints were filed.  

The nature of the complaints also changed, and they increasingly focus on the election system as a whole including possible violations involving election equipment and their technical configuration and equipment interaction. Complaints that focus on the system require investigators independent of the Secretary of State’s office to investigate sophisticated technical and process issues in addition to the isolated issues that arise in counties and precincts. The board must have the independence necessary to investigate all components of the election process—from single registration challenges to claims of system wide issues.  

In the past, the board has been reactive, principally focusing on complaints and ruling making when issues are presented to it. We need to be forward-looking— to identify problems and issues and to work with counties and the Secretary of State’s Elections Division to identify uniform election practices to avoid them. 

Our goal is to address problems and issues before they result in complaints and investigations. We want to promote collaboration and cooperation among all of those responsible for our election system—county election officials, the state Election Division and the board. We need to work collaboratively to ensure integrity, objectivity, and fairness in elections in our state.  This is the path to building public trust in the  elections process in Georgia. 

We can play that role only if we have adequate resources.  Before the change in board leadership last year, the board functioned with the resources of the Secretary of State’s office because the Secretary was chair. The board, now with a nonpartisan Chair elected by the General Assembly, needs sufficient funding for administrative support, complaint management, improvement of the management of election processes, to develop and deploy best-practices and to promote interaction between leaders in the election system.  To investigate adequately, the board needs funds to hire persons to evaluate the increasing claims based on the technical and electronic systems used in the election process. The board needs funding to conduct administrative hearings. The board needs investigators that are assigned to the board. Sufficient resources to perform its important duties are necessary for the board to function independently. The need for resources is immediate. 

InsiderAdvantage:  What level of funding does the State Election Board need to do its job? 

Judge Duffey: The board accepts that funding is always challenging, and subject to the budget process. We have been making our case to the Governor’s office and legislative leaders that we need to hire permanent staff, to have investigators that report directly to the board, to acquire basis office supplies, funds to create and maintain a website that is not embedded in the website hosted by the Secretary of State,  funds to conduct hearings on complaints and funds to retain consultants to evaluate complaints that center on claimed flaws and shortcomings in the technology used in our voting system.  

Insider Advantage:  What happens if adequate funding is not forthcoming? 

Judge Duffey: The board has existed for many years, but its current duties and responsibilities are more complex, expansive and sophisticated. It is time for a different approach and that requires state funding that is deposited to an account available only to the State Election Board rather than from funds over which the Secretary of State’s office has discretion. We have been assured a separate account under the board’s control can be created.  

If the board isn’t adequately funded, we cannot do our job.  That was underscored at the board meeting on February 7. At the meeting, the Performance Review Board reported the results of its performance review of Fulton County’s technical competence in the maintenance and operation of elections equipment, proper administration and oversight of registration and elections, and compliance with state law and regulations. The authority to appoint an independent review board was first entrusted to the board in 2021. At the meeting, the review board was asked if there was sufficient funding to conduct performance reviews of other counties. The board members stated there was not. That is true. 

The General Assembly has given the State Election Board the authority to evaluate underperforming counties. For that duty and all others performed by the board, funding is required.  So the board looks forward to working with the legislature and the Secretary of State’s office to secure the funding this year to allow the board to serve the citizens of our state now and in future years.  It is my hope that the State Election Board will be funded in 2023 in line with the resources we requested. I am optimistic that we will have the funds and resources necessary to meet its obligations during the 2024 election cycle.  


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