The local Republican Party is questioning whether members of the Liberty County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People should have served as poll watchers in the Nov. 8 election.
The Liberty County Republican Party submitted a letter to the Liberty County Board of Elections at the group’s monthly meeting Monday, claiming NAACP members should not have been allowed to act as designated poll watchers during the Nov. 8 general election.
Melinda Schneider, a member of both the Board of Elections and the local Republican party, handed in a letter on behalf of Roger Wells, chairman of the local party. The letter was addressed to Richard Braun, chairman of the Board of Elections, who was not at the meeting.
The letter gave a number of reasons why local Republicans think the NAACP shouldn’t be poll watchers.
"First, official poll watchers designated letter and badges were given to various members of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) by the Liberty County Elections Office," the letter said. "Second, it is our belief based upon the application statutes that such action is not permitted, as NAACP is not officially a political party. Third, the designated letter and badges issued to many members of said organization did not designate which precinct area the individual would serve."
The letter will be sent to the Georgia Secretary of State office, Schneider said, calling the situation "illegal."
Graylan Quarterman, president of the Liberty NAACP branch, said the NAACP is a non-partisan organization that has always been des
ignated poll watchers in elections across the country.
"We can be poll watchers to represent all the citizens, to include the Republican and Democratic parties. The Republican Party complained about us being poll watchers because, from what I heard, they were told that they could not be poll watchers and wear their badges. Well, they’re not a neutral party. We had every right to watch the election process and make sure that everyone had the opportunity to vote in the election without disruption," Quarterman said. "We were poll watchers in the primary with no problem from any party."
Quarterman said the local Republican Party has worked closely alongside the NAACP in non-partisan elections. When it is a partisan election, Quarterman said, the NAACP then has to separate itself from the parties to remain neutral.
Quarterman also claimed that Schneider interfered with the election process by stopping poll watchers, asking them questions and talking to voters entering polling places.
"Her job is not to go to the polls and interfere with poll watchers or govern the poll," Quarterman said.
He said he reported Schneider to Braun.
"(Schneider) indicated the badge was intimidating and should not be worn because she could not wear her Republican badge," Quarterman said. "I told her that she cannot wear her badge because she represents a single group in a partisan election. This (NAACP) badge represents everybody, even when you don’t want to be represented by it."
He said he regrets Republican Party members think the NAACP is being divisive. He said he encourages everyone to participate in the NAACP goal of supporting the rights of all people.
Schneider said she was not interfering and it’s her job as a board member to check on the polls.
"The NAACP being there, that first step is wrong, illegal, in error. They are not a political party," she said. "Poll watchers were given instruction that you cannot wear anything of the party."
Schneider did not recall NAACP poll watchers at previous elections during her time on the board, but said it’s possible.
Schneider said she called into a GOP hotline in Atlanta, given to poll workers to report, to originally mention the NAACP badges, and was told the NAACP should not have been there.
John Wood, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party District 1, said in an email he was not trying to make a big deal out of the NAACP’s serving as poll watchers.
"I just believe in the rule of law and unabashedly believe that when any government organization strays from that it creates an opportunity for inconsistency," he said, "and ultimately breaking the state law, as innocent as the actions may seem."
According to the Georgia Poll Worker Training Manual 2016 edition and Georgia Code 21-2-408 (2010), "A poll watcher is a person named by a political party, political body, or candidate who is authorized to enter the enclosed space to observe the conduct of an election and the counting and recording of votes."
Candice Broce, press secretary for the secretary of state, said an organization cannot request on its own to be poll watchers.
"You have to have formal designation, submit a letter to county officials saying you’ve gotten the approval of someone from a political party, body or candidate, or non-partisan candidate," Broce said. "Candidates can choose who they would like to serve a poll watchers."
Quarterman said the NAACP was requested to be poll watchers by several groups representing the interest of all people in the county, which, he said, falls within the guidelines of the secretary of state. He did not name the groups.
It is unclear what action, if any, the secretary of state’s office will take.
Poll watchers are prohibited from a number of things that include interfering with the conduct of the election, talking to voters and campaigning while behind an enclosed space.
Each local poll watcher has a badge with their name, the primary or election they’re serving and the designated precinct or tabulating center.
The board was unable to act on the complaint due to Braun’s absence.
Ella Golden, chief registrar and election supervisor, also would not comment on the complaints.
Wood said he thinks the bigger story isn’t who was watching the polls. It was how people voted.
"Republicans overall had an 8.6 increase from 2012. Obviously that concerned a lot of split ticket voting but it’s still a gain," Wood said. "I want to understand this vote. How much was a Trump vote and how much was anti-Hillary? I am very cautious though because this isn’t a time for a GOP victory lap — there’s too much at stake."