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Republicans oppose county veto on elections board picks

It was an unusual turn of events Thursday night, as Fayette County Republican Party chairman David Studdard implored the all-Republican Fayette County Commission to wipe out a December action that could lead to giving the county commission veto power over all future members of the county’s elections board.

As it stands now, the three-member board is constituted by one appointee each from the Republican and Democratic parties and one appointed by the county commission. But in a December vote, the county commission passed a resolution to seek a veto power over the Republican and Democratic appointees for the position.

The move drew criticism from outgoing commissioner Eric Maxwell, who said it won’t be right for the all-Republican commission to be able to turn away the Democratic Party’s elections board appointee.

Studdard, who also is the current-serving Republican appointee to the county elections board, made it clear Thursday night that the Republicans too have an issue with giving the county commission said veto power over all elections board appointees.

“My chief concern about that is I think that system raises at least the specter of impropriety in the minds of folks,” Studdard said, speaking during the public comment portion of the commission meeting.

In Studdard’s mind it is more than puzzling why a Democrat, Virgil Fludd, is the one “carrying” the local bill in the legislature for an all-Republican commission.

“He represents a very small portion of Fayette County and he’s carrying legislation that affects the entire county and the way the board of elections is constructed,” Studdard said.

It is entirely possible that the change will draw scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice that could perhaps result in district voting being forced on Fayette County, Studdard said.

Studdard said that he is familiar with the problems the commission has with the board of elections, and he feels the problems can be resolved by “simple communication” between the two groups instead of enacting the new legislation to tighten the county’s control over the elections board.

“There has been some miscommunication and some misunderstanding between the two bodies,” Studdard said.

Studdard noted that the executive committee of the Fayette County Republican Party is against giving the commission veto power over elections board appointees.

The elections board selection process, Studdard noted, was designed “so no single political entity has sole control over the administration of elections,” which he added must be administered with fairness and impartiality.

New county commissioner Steve Brown is also trying to get the commission’s December resolution overturned. It was approved on a 3-1 vote, with commissioners Jack Smith, Robert Horgan and Herb Frady voting in favor and Eric Maxwell voting against. Commissioner Lee Hearn was absent from that meeting and did not vote.

So far however, Brown has been unsuccessful in his attempt to get the matter put on a county commission agenda so the resolution can be brought back for a vote.

Studdard’s mention of district voting referred to Fludd’s most recent failed effort several years ago to require the county commission to move away from at-large voting, which allows each county resident to vote on all county commission seats.

Under a district voting system, the county would be broken up into five separate geographic districts, and voters would only be allowed to vote for one of the five commission seats which represents the geographic district they live in.

Some critics of the county’s current voting method have argued that at-large voting prevents minority candidates from being voted into office, whereas under a district voting system it would be easier for a minority candidate to get elected, as he or she would be acquainting themselves with a far smaller number of people in the district rather than having to introduce themselves to the entire county as a whole.

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