From today’s AJC:
Original June 13 Post
REPUBLICANS NOMINATE BAD ACTOR PAUL MANER TO DEKALB ELECTIONS BOARD. JUDGE ASHA JACKSON SHOULD REJECT HIM.
By Jonathan Grant
Appointing members for DeKalb County’s Board of Registration and Elections used to be a ho-hum affair. Not now. High stakes elections, the GOP’s bad-faith “Stop the Steal” campaign, and DeKalb’s new board selection process have combined to make it a fraught process.
With more than 550K registered voters, DeKalb plays a huge role in statewide elections. A failure or, more perversely, an outright refusal to certify DeKalb’s election results would have a cataclysmic impact on statewide results–even more so than in neighboring Fulton, due to DeKalb’s heavier Democratic tilt.
Georgia’s GOP legislators had such large, urban counties in mind when they passed SB 202. In addition to placing restrictions on voting that target urban (and therefore Black) voters, Republicans have set up a process for the state to take over “underperforming” county election boards. This creates an incentive for sabotage, since there would be no quicker way to throw a statewide election to Republicans than to decertify DeKalb and Fulton results. It’s alarming that the idea of having legal mechanisms in place to nullify election results has caught on in Republican circles.
Fulton County’s Board of Elections has been under constant attack since November, when Georgia voters chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump. Republican politicians, including a majority of Georgia’s GOP senators, have embraced Trump’s refusal to concede and false claims of election fraud. In one way or another, they’ve sought to overturn those results. Fortunately, they’ve failed–so far.
Unfortunately, a majority of Republican voters believe those lies. Not only that, a recent poll shows that a third of them think Trump will somehow be “reinstated” as president this year, despite the absence of a legal mechanism for it.
And because those voters demand action, Republicans have seized on Trump’s fake grievance to promote “election integrity” despite a lack of evidence that there was any kind of organized voter fraud. Consequently, we’re seeing highly suspect partisan “audits” of 2020 election results and restrictive new voter laws with the sometimes stated (but usually obvious) goal of increasing Republican chances for victory in 2022 and beyond.
One key voter suppression tactic the Georgia General Assembly approved was to drastically restrict absentee ballot drop boxes in larger counties, in effect rendering them useless. While DeKalb had more than 30 of these boxes last year, next year the county will be limited to five. And they’ll be inside polling places so that voters can’t access them 24/7. This was done purportedly to increase security, even though A) there’s been no evidence presented of drop box tampering in Georgia and B) drop boxes were under constant video surveillance, making them much more secure than the alternative U.S. mailboxes.
In the face of this sabotage, election boards in DeKalb and elsewhere will have a more difficult task ensuring that all eligible voters are able to cast ballots. The DeKalb GOP’s attempt to place a bad actor in a key position shouldn’t go unnoticed. Paul Maner, the party’s nominee for this post, has earned a reputation for fringe right-wing views, a confrontational, bullying style, and a willingness to slander political opponents.
They didn’t just exactly the wrong person by accident. Republicans may not be able to win political office in DeKalb, but they can throw a monkey wrench into the election machinery in hopes of decreasing Democratic turnout.
Democracy at stake
Prior to 2019, DeKalb’s five-member elections board was comprised of two members chosen by the county’s Democratic Party, two by the local GOP, and then the four of them voted to choose a fifth, at-large member. That process was changed following a State Supreme Court ruling that declared the selection process for DeKalb’s Ethics Board was unconstitutional because members of a governmental body cannot be chosen by private entities. The writing was on the wall. Elections boards with members directly chosen by political parties now are in danger of a similar fate. While many counties–and the state–have been slow to change, DeKalb, being close to the problem, was probably the first. In 2019, Senate Bill 246 was passed, which set up the current system. Major political parties still play a key role, since they each nominate two members, but the nominations are subject to approval by DeKalb’s Chief Judge Asha Jackson. The fifth, at-large member, is chosen directly by Judge Jackson.
The law went into effect that year. The Republican Party stood pat, and nominated longtime incumbents Baoky Vu and Anthony Lewis. Democrats went with new blood, nominating Susan Motter and Dele Lowmann Smith to replace longtime member Leona Perry and Chairman Samuel Tillman, who had fallen out of favor with Democrats over missing absentee ballots in the 2018 election as well as his behavior. Tillman, who had taken it upon himself to push the reform legislation and managed to get Judge Jackson to reappoint him to the board despite the loss of his constituency. Interestingly, he was the only person to apply, since no one else knew how to. This time, there’s no such lack of information, and at last report, more than a dozen people had applied for the at-large post.
Motter and Smith, who replaced Perry and Tillman, have been re-nominated by Democrats. This time, it’s the Republicans who aren’t standing pat. While the county party has renominated Lewis, it has moved to replace Vu, a moderate Republican who resigned as a GOP elector in 2016 rather than cast a vote for Trump. Vu, whose wife, Anh Le, is a member of the State Board of Elections, worked alongside Smith to spearhead much-needed reforms to the board’s election administration, which still needs major changes to be brought fully into the 21st Century. (Replacing Tillman, who’s become a turf-protective obstructionist, will be key to accomplishing that goal, as I’ve previously mentioned).
Vu is now persona non grata to the Republican Party because he joined three other board members in a statement opposing the General Assembly’s proposed restrictions on voting. (Lewis declined to sign on.) DeKalb’s GOP responded by censuring Vu and calling on him to resign. Declining to do so, he is serving out his term and participated in his last meeting Thursday.
Paul Maner is a troll and “pants on fire” kinda guy
News broke last night that the GOP had picked Paul Maner to replace Vu. Under normal circumstances, Judge Jackson would simply accept the party’s nominee and appoint him/her to the board for a two-year term. However, she isn’t required to. SB 246 states: “The chief judge of the superior court of DeKalb County may reject any nominee for appointment to the board and the political party that nominated such rejected nominee shall nominate another qualified person.”
Maner really isn’t qualified. A well-known fringe right wing figure in DeKalb, he challenged then-Sen. Fran Millar in 2016’s. District 40 race. Millar beat him by 60 points. In 2018, he backed fellow fringer and last-place finisher Michael Williams in his failed gubernatorial primary campaign, which featured a “deportation bus” that broke down. You can see Maner (in red cap) in news coverage of a contentious campaign stop.
Those things may not seem like automatic disqualifiers, though some might disagree, arguing that he’s too partisan for the job, and as you’ll see below, he seems to be hold some racial animus, as well. It’s noteworthy that having Maner as a nominee shows how much gravitas the DeKalb GOP has lost following a series of election defeats over the past few cycles, culminating in DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester’s 2020 loss that left the party without a political foothold in DeKalb.
With Maner’s nomination to the elections board, DeKalb’s GOP has lapsed into complete unseriousness. I’m not aware of any experience Maner has working with the Board of Elections other than this: In 2018, Maner filed a spurious voter eligibility challenge. I wrote this on the blog at the time:
Lindy Miller’s voter registration problem goes away: Right-wing Republican activist Paul Maner, who had challenged the voter registration of Democratic Public Service Commission candidate Lindy Miller, had pushed the challenge onto the agenda for today’s meeting, but his case flopped. The meeting agenda listed challenges, but when the item was called, Director Erica Hamilton told Board of Elections members that there were none. Miller’s voting registration had been changed to match her current address shortly after the challenge was filed, but Maner said he wasn’t dropping the matter. He didn’t show up for today’s meeting (neither did Miller), so apparently he had no case.
It appears that Maner was merely trolling to stir up trouble. However, the stakes are higher now that the General Assembly has streamlined procedures for massive voter registration challenges. Can DeKalb voters trust Maner to seek the truth when some guy from Texas shows up with a purge list of 50,000 voters? I, for one, do not.
Why? Because Maner has no particular love of the truth. Receipts: He earned a “PANTS ON FIRE” rating from Politifact for his false and defamatory claim that U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was killed during a drug deal gone bad. That’s a lie, of course. The teenager was killed when a middle-aged white man, angry over loud music, opened fire on a car full of Black youths at a Florida gas station. The man was later convicted of murder. Maner pulled his social media posts, but they were there long enough for people to see his true stripes.
These are serious times for serious people. Unfortunately, the DeKalb GOP, which has in the past provided diligent, honorable members to the Board, has quit being serious under the Kraken “leadership” of Marci McCarthy, and the nomination of Paul Maner to the Board is an insult to the voters of DeKalb.
Judge Jackson should reject Maner’s nomination and tell the DeKalb Republican Party to nominate someone who’s fit for the job.
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