Pickens Your Battles

The Pickens County Republican Party has become the first county Republican Party to attempt to disenfranchise the approximately 7,600 Republican Primary voters who reside in their county by deciding that the approximately thirty-four (34) individuals who make up the Pickens County Republican Party County Committee will be the ones to decide who gets to be the Republican nominee and who does not.

The letter, signed by Pickens County Republican Party Vice-Chair of Communications (and current Chairman of the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee) David Oles, was posted on the Pickens County GOP Facebook page on Wednesday, December 20 details how anyone wishing to run as a Republican for a county partisan office must bow before the GOP’s leadership before they will be allowed to qualify for office.

If 2020 is any indication, there will be about ten partisan races at the county level in 2024 for which the Pickens County Republican Party would be the organization that candidates for those offices would need to qualify for office with in order to run as a Republican. Qualifying will likely be in March, but the Pickens GOP is only allowing candidates to interview during a two hour window on January 20 and requires interviews to be no less than 30 days before qualifying, which means, if a potential candidate decides less than 30 days before qualifying they want to run, the Pickens County Rules would, if they were upheld, prevent that person from being able to qualify.

Likely, however, the only thing that will happen to the Pickens County Republican Party is they will be sued into insolvency. While David Oles, the Harvard Law educated divorce attorney turned election law expert, cites O.C.G.A. § 21-2-153 as authority for setting up their star chamber for candidate vetting, state law is clear that a candidate shall not be prohibited from qualifying except in very narrow circumstances, as I noted back in May. O.C.G.A. § 21-2-153 states that, “no person shall be prohibited from qualifying for such office if he or she:

(1) Meets the requirements of such procedural rules;

(2) Is eligible to hold the office which he or she seeks;

(3) Is not prohibited from being nominated or elected by provisions of Code Section 21-2-7 or 21-2-8; and

(4) If party rules so require, affirms his or her allegiance to his or her party by signing the following oath: “I do hereby swear or affirm my allegiance to the (name of party) Party.”

Maybe the Pickens County leadership can successfully claim that meeting before the County Committee is a required procedural perquisite allowed by the law, even if that procedural perquisite is one day, for two hours, months before candidate qualifying, but given what the Georgia Supreme Court has said about candidate qualifying as recently as 2022, the Pickens County GOP is likely not going to be able to disqualify any candidate, but is going to be on the hook for some hefty legal bills.

In 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court handed down their decision in Camp v. Williams, 879 S.E.2d 88. While the Georgia Supreme Court didn’t directly address local procedural rules that may or may not be imposed on candidates qualifying for office, the Court did engage in a lengthy discussion on candidate qualifying procedures. The Court concluded, “the qualifications for seeking and holding office is best read to include all pre-requisites — including the procedural requirements to seek office — not just the traits required to hold it.”

The issue of party rules and procedures for candidate qualifying were also addressed in the 1970’s by the Georgia Attorney General in Official Opinion 76-90. In the Opinion to the Secretary of State, AG Arthur Bolton noted that, “the decision as to whether a candidate seeking nomination by a political party is qualified to hold office must be made by the party whose nomination the candidate is seeking. Pursuant to Ga. Code § 34-1005 [which has since been replaced by § 21-2-153], it is the party which shall in accordance with its own party rules, prohibit an individual from qualifying if he does not satisfy the eligibility requirements for holding office. See Op. Att’y Gen. 74-96. This is a logical result; not only is the party in the best position to determine whether a candidate is in compliance with its own rules, but it also has the strongest interest in requiring full compliance, for no party would want to sponsor an individual who was ineligible to hold office.”

Opinion 74-96 dealt with the authority of the State Board of Elections to remove a candidate from a primary ballot, concluding it did not have that authority.

No where in the O.C.G.A., decisions by the Georgia Supreme Court, or Opinions of the Attorney General are Party Rules given greater authority than state law when it comes to candidate qualifying. In fact, the law is quite clear, the rules adopted by any state or county political party in Georgia must be consistent with state law (see O.C.G.A. § 21-2-111 (b)).

While it is unclear whether or not a local county party can adopt an unusual procedural rule, like requiring candidates to meet with the committee during a two hour window on a random Saturday months before qualifying, what is clear is that Georgia law sets out the qualifications for candidates for office, even qualifications to appear on a primary ballot for a political party. Courts, generally, do not look favorably on policies and procedures that would unduly burden elections. Furthermore, even the Rules of the Georgia Republican Party define as party members any elector who considers themselves to be Republican and are, “in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, believe in its declaration of policy and are in agreement with its aims and purposes” (see Rule 1.1). Again, local Party rules do not supersede State Party Rules.

None of those legal qualifications in O.C.G.A. §21-2-153 or the Rules of the Georgia Republican Party contemplates 34 people making decisions for more than 7,600 others regarding who they can or cannot choose from if an individual wants to hold themselves out as an Republican candidate for office, because that person believes they align more with the principles of the Republican Party in general, not what Pickens County GOP Chair Chris Mora, David Oles, and the other members of the County Committee want to believe a Republican is or is not.

The Georgia Republican Party has the authority under both state law and Georgia Republican Party Rules to rein in Pickens and Chattooga, another county which has adopted the so-called “accountability rule,” including dissolving their county committee. It’s past time for the leadership at the state level to put an end to the nonsense, and it needs to be done before the approximately 7,600 Republican voters in Pickens County (or over 14,000 GOP General Election GOP voters) send a message to Chris Mora, David Oles, and the rest of the GOP across the state that they don’t appreciate being disenfranchised by the 34 so-called “leaders” of their local Republican Party.

One Reply to “Pickens Your Battles”

  1. Ahhh….David Oles, Nathaniel Darnell’s wet dream of a GRA leader to lead the attack on the “Old Guard GOP” to bring-in his 34-person view of who should be qualified to run as a Republican.

    Lenin and Stalin are clinking glasses in their graves, whilst this country’s Founding Fathers are busy rolling over in their’s…

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