Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections Chairwoman Alice O’Lenick did not deny comments she made at a Gwinnett Republican Party meeting last week and resisted calls to resign Tuesday night.
O’Lenick, who is one of two Gwinnett GOP appointees on the bipartisan elections board, is facing calls from 15 members of Gwinnett County legislative delegation — all Democrats — as well as 17 voting and civil rights groups to step down.
Those calls were in response to a Daily Post report over the weekend in which she was quoted telling the county’s GOP on Jan. 14 that she felt election law changes should be made so Republicans would “at least have a shot at winning.” The comments also drew condemnation from U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.
But, O’Lenick stood her ground as she addressed the controversy at the elections board meeting on Tuesday.
“I swore an oath to uphold the laws and provide a lawful election in Gwinnett County, and that is what I do,” O’Lenick said.
O’Lenick’s comments and the calls for her resignation come on the heels of a heated elections season that ended with President Donald Trump and his attorneys and supporters floating claims — which were refuted by officials in Georgia’s Secretary of State office — of widespread voter fraud in Georgia.
The changes O’Lenick advocated including scaling back no excuse absentee-by-mail voting, limiting it to the elderly and “infirm,” and eliminating absentee ballot drop boxes.
“We, the undersigned Gwinnett state legislators, demand your immediate resignation for the irreparable harm your public statements have caused, which clearly demonstrate your inability to complete the duties of chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Elections to ensure free and fair elections and an open democratic process for the citizens of Gwinnett County,” the 15 legislators — three-fifths of the county’s legislative delegation — wrote in their letter to O’Lenick.
News of O’Lenick’s comments has gained attention across the country.
As the elections board was meeting Tuesday night, a hashtag targeting O’Lenick, #AliceMustGo, was the second highest trending item in the U.S. on Twitter with 25,300 tweets with that hashtag being posted as of 7 p.m.
“O’Lenick isn’t even trying to hide her bias against Democratic voters and voters of color in Gwinnett County,” Stacey Abrams’ group, Fair Fight, said in one of a series of four tweets. “She has made clear that her only motivation is pure partisanship, engaging openly in rhetoric that is more suited for a political party hack than an elections official.”
During the virtual meeting, critics and supporters of O’Lenick debated whether she should step down or be removed from the elections board.
The criticism at the meeting began with a statement from Stephen Day and Wandy Taylor, the two Gwinnett County Democratic Party appointees on the elections board, before it moved on to the public comment section.
“Simply put, they want to change the rules to bias the laws against Democrats to help Republicans win elections,” Taylor said as she read the statement. “This attitude violates the fundamental principles of our representative democracy and frankly it’s un-American.
“The idea that one political party can only win by suppressing the vote of another political party is an abomination of our system of governance.”
O’Lenick said she believes people should have more access to vote, pointing to her support of expanding early voting hours and being in favor of adding more early voting sites.
“Addressing absentee-by-mail is not voter suppression, it is vote security,” O’Lenick said. “We should encourage voting in person, either during early voting, known as AIP, or on election day. I have voted for and implemented more hours of early voting, more days of early voting and two Saturdays and two Sundays in the last election.
“Do we need more hours? In my opinion, yes. Do we need more locations for early voting? Yes.”
Critics who spoke during public comments claimed her comments amounted to voter suppression, with one person comparing it to Jim Crow laws.
State Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, countered O’Lenick’s assertions that she was not advocating voter suppression by arguing that some of the changes she was advocating, including removing drop boxes and scaling back no excuse absentee-by-mail voting, was in fact suppression.
“Chairman O’Lenick’s remarks, which she has not stated were a misquote when she had an opportunity to do so in her opening remarks, that she will fight to disenfranchise voters to give a political party, the Republican Party, ‘a shot at winning’ are antithetical to a robust and functional democracy,” Clark said.
Other people who spoke during public comment questioned whether O’Lenick should publicly advocate for elections law changes while sitting on the county’s elections board.
“If she sees her role as an advocate, then she needs to be a lobbyist or run for elected office,” Curt Thompson, a former state senator and county commission chairman candidate, said.
Supporters, however, praised O’Lenick and said she has worked for years to protect voting in Gwinnett County.
Warren Auld, who was at the Gwinnett GOP meeting where O’Lenick made the comments at the center of the controversy, said comments made against her were “inflammatory” and were not based in fact.
“She advocated some changes, advocated looking at absentee ballot issues, drop and reviewing the election laws,” Auld said. “The statements in opposition to her almost immediately jump to conclusions about attitude alleging she was suppressing the vote. There was language of her participating in Jim Crow-ism, conspiracies, attempting to suppress the vote, even alleging African-Americans would be harmed by what she was doing.
“All of those are just without any basis in fact.”
Gwinnett GOP Chairman Edward Muldrow said that, as a Black man, he does not feel his vote would be suppressed if the changes O’Lenick has called for were adopted.
“I think it’s actually laughable that we have people using phrases like ‘Jim Crow’ and ‘voter suppression’ and invoking the victimhood, if you will, of Black people in order to support their stance for wanting to remove Alice O’Lenick,” Muldrow said.