Guest: Helen Butler of The People's Agenda, purged from the Morgan County, GA Board of Elections; Also: Listener mail!...
By Brad Friedman on 12/15/2021, 6:28pm PT  

If you're wondering how to stay positive as America appears on the brink of a very dark authoritarian takeover by Republicans, we may have just the answer for you in the form of today's guest on The BradCast. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]

Reuters has been doing an incredibly well-reported series of special reports of late on the Republicans' ongoing assault on democracy itself in America. They've covered, among other aspects, the attacks on elections officials stemming from Donald Trump's attempt to steal the 2020 election by blatantly lying about it, and even citing certain election officials by name who were subsequently targeted and terrorized --- sometimes, along with their family members --- with threats of violence and death by his supporters. They have also been very smartly covering the effects of new voter suppression laws being adopted in GOP controlled states around the nation, as part of the opportunistic fall-out from the lies that Trump told in his effort to steal last year's Presidential election.

Recently, Reuters' James Oliphant and Nathan Layne took a detailed look at the effect all of this is having on local elections officials in a state we have covered in great detail on this program: Georgia, where longtime, local election board officials --- specifically, Democratic election officials ... specifically black Democratic election officials (and frequently black Democratic women) --- are now being purged from County election boards across the state at an alarming rate.

The purge is thanks to two different state laws. One is GA's terrible new anti-voting law, SB 202, passed earlier this year, which allows for --- among other anti-democratic things --- officials on the State Board of Elections, which is controlled by the GOP state legislature and Republican Sec. of State, to replace county election officials with partisan operatives (for virtually any reason) who can then overturn election results (also, for virtually any reason.) [FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a named plaintiff, representing media, challenging several provisions of SB 202 in a federal lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Good Governance.] The other law being used even more, referred to as "local legislation", has been in place for a while, but was rarely invoked until this year in the wake of Trump's "Big Lie" after Democrats won the Presidential election in the state for the first time in years, along with both of the Peach State's U.S. Senate seats. The state law allows County Commissions to restructure their County Boards of Elections pretty much anyway they like after receiving approval for the restructuring from the state legislature.

In at least half a dozen Georgia counties that have restructured their election boards so far this year, Oliphant and Layne report, "the legislature shifted the power to appoint some or all election board members to local county commissions, all of which are currently controlled by Republicans. Previously, the appointments had been split evenly between the local Democratic and Republican parties." They detail how black Democrats --- often long-serving champions of voting rights --- have been systematically purged from those county boards and replaced with White Republican majorities in advance of next year's critical mid-terms, where popular black Democratic voting rights advocates Stacey Abrams and Sen. Raphael Warnock will both be on the ballot, for Governor and U.S. Senator respectively.

"In Morgan County, the majority-Republican county commission reconstituted its election board, ousting two outspoken Black Democrats," Reuters reports, "Helen Butler and Avery Jackson were removed after the new law eliminated political-party appointments and handed appointment power to the Republican-dominated commission. Butler and Jackson sought reappointments but were denied."

We're thrilled to be joined once again today by one of those two ousted officials, HELEN BUTLER, who served honorably on the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration for a decade until she was pushed out this year. Butler, who we first spoke with over the summer, after she offered testimony in the U.S. Senate, is the Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, a civil rights organization founded by the late, great civil rights icon, Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery (who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr.).

She is also the winner of the Voter Empowerment Collaborative's 2021 Love Award, named after the 40-year old civil rights group's legendary founder, Reverend Albert E. Love, known as "Mr. Vote," after dedicating his life to registering, educating and mobilizing voters. And Butler is also a 2021 "Defender of the Dream" awardee by the AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference. We leave it to you to decide if those awards are as prestigious as Butler being named last month as a "Goddess of Democracy" in Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year" issue.

Butler describes today what is going on right now in Georgia, largely under the national media radar, as being part of the GOP's "insurrection plan nationally, that 'We are going to take over every aspect of controlling the outcome of elections, so if I don't like the results, I can put in the results that I want to have.'" She also notes that it is happening not only with boards of elections in her state, but at school boards as well.

"They're not stopping with just elections. They're trying to take over control of all aspects of government. Education departments are the largest generators of revenue in counties, so if they get to control that, they get to control all money, they get to control what our children learn, what they get, where schools are located," she warns. "So again, it's a total takeover process that they're going after...They are stacking control of all levels of government."

When I ask how much control local county boards of elections have over elections and voting processes, and even outcomes, as compared to the state itself, Butler pulls no punches: "The county levels are the ones where the rubber meets the road. They do all of the voter registration, making sure people are registered to vote. They get to determine with their redistricting process, how the maps are drawn, how people are put into those maps for purposes of voting. They also control who gets an absentee ballot, whether it gets counted or is rejected. If there are provisional ballots, they get to determine which ones are counted, which ones are rejected. They get to certify the results --- they get to count all of the votes that are cast. And they get to certify who gets to win each race. So they are very critical... and if you stack it so those people can conform to a lie versus the truth, then you don't get true democracy... you get an autocratic form of government, because someone wants it to go a certain way, and not necessarily to the will of the voters."

With that, Butler explains, "they can control the outcome of all elections." And while all of this sounds --- and is --- quite chilling, Butler's optimism, as you'll hear, is absolutely infectious. As dark as the topic of discussion is, you'll be astounded to walk away from this conversation actually feeling somewhat better about everything...including the possibility of federal legislation in the form of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act actually being adopted by the U.S. Senate, and maybe even saving democracy in Georgia and everywhere else before all is said and done. She explains how those bills will go a long way toward reversing the worst of the GOP's now-ongoing assault on American democracy and, if passed, could be "our saving grace."

"I always try to be optimistic, to look for the good things rather than dwell on the bad," she tells me, as she also explains how Americans across the country can help right now. "It's very important we get those bills passed...As my leader, the late Dr. Joseph Lowery said, 'Voting is a sacred right, but it's also a moral obligation.'"

Tune in for much more in today's conversation. You can thank me later.

Finally, we close today with a listener mail segment, including some great letters from listeners in response to several recent shows that may help you keep Butler's infectious optimism going through the holidays...or at least for the next few hours...

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