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During a press conference around 6:30pm in Washington DC today on 5th of November 2020, President Trump stated that the election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats.

I have transcribed the quote with some context here:

In Georgia a pipe burst in a far-away location, totally unrelated to the location of what was happening, and they stopped counting for 4 hours. And a lot of things happened. The election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats.

This was at roughly 28:10 of this video posted by Right Side Broadcasting Network.

What is the basis for this claim?

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    Does the US have some sort of concept of an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) like we do in South Africa? If not, and voting is run by locals in every location, then how is this a meaningful claim? You could just as well make similar claims in all states. Nov 6 '20 at 9:08
  • Deleted comments that suggested it is inappropriate to ask questions here or attacked political views.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 6 '20 at 15:58
  • I'm a bit unsure about what the right answer is. I've marked reirab's answer as it appears more complete, but also have no reason to think that jeffronicus' answer is wrong. I've found both answers to be really insightful in any case.
    – quant
    Nov 8 '20 at 22:21
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tl;dr: For the relevant part of Georgia, Yes, it is run by Democrats, but this is not true for the state as a whole.

The majority of the work in elections in the United States is run by local election commissions, not by the state government (as Trump's quote seems to misleadingly suggest.) These are typically operated at the county level and appointed by county-level politicians. Thus, they are appointed by politicians who tend to reflect the political views of the individual counties, not of the state as a whole.

(For those not familiar with U.S. political systems, 'counties' are the political divisions beneath states, with each state typically being divided into many dozens of counties. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, the 50 U.S. states plus District of Columbia (the capital district) are divided into 3,141 counties or equivalents of counties. Very large cities may span a few counties, though most counties contain several smaller towns and cities.)

The bi-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures describes the breakdown of work and oversight in running elections in this way (emphasis mine):

The U.S. is characterized by a highly decentralized election administration system. The entities that do the rubber-meets-the-road functions of running an election are typically on the county or city/town level. The state is responsible for certain aspects of elections as well, and the federal government has a role, too. The result is that no state administers elections in exactly the same way as another state, and there is quite a bit of variation in election administration even within states. Each state’s election administration structure and procedures grew organically, as times changed and administering an election became an increasingly complex task.

In general, there are some federal laws governing elections that all states and campaigns must follow. State laws define much more of the nuts and bolts of how elections should be run and a state-level agency typically oversees elections for the entire state and approves the final vote counts. However, the majority of the voting processes are defined by local-level election commissions and nearly all of the work of providing the means to vote and counting of the votes takes place under their direct oversight and according to their rules. They then report results up to the state-level election agency.

So, in a large, urban areas like Atlanta - where every Mayor since 1879 has been a Democrat - yes, most of the election apparatus is, in fact, run by Democrats. Being much more populous than most Georgia counties, these are the counties where the vast majority of vote-counting over the last few days has still been taking place. The less populous counties, which tend to support and be run by Republicans, can typically complete their vote counting much sooner and most of that was done by election night. This is why Trump led Georgia by several percentage points late Tuesday night and his lead has been slowly declining since that time, ultimately switching to a very slight lead for Biden as of this morning (Friday, Nov 6.)

Note that this pattern is true in essentially all states that have any large cities, not just Georgia. The rural areas tend to be very conservative with local governments run by Republicans. Suburbs tend to be center-right with a mix of both Democratic and Republican-run governments, though somewhat favoring Republican-run ones. Large urban areas tend to be heavily Democratic with local governments run almost exclusively by Democrats. In all of those cases, the majority of the election apparatus is run by those local governments.


Edit: Another answer has added some incorrect information, so, to clear up the misconceptions mentioned in the other answer:

The "non-partisan" part of the Chairperson position on election boards in Georgia means that the position is not reserved to be nominated by one party or the other. It does not mean that the people who did nominate the Chairperson aren't from one party or the other or than the nominated Chairperson isn't from one party or the other.

For example, in Fulton County, Georgia's most populous county and the location of most of Atlanta, the election board has 5 members. Two are nominated by each party and the other (the Chairperson) is appointed by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Unsurprisingly, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners has a Democratic majority.

In particular, according to a contemporaneous article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, current Chairperson Mary Carole Cooney was nominated in 2013 by Democratic Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts:

County Commissioner Robb Pitts, an Atlanta Democrat and former city councilman, nominated Cooney to chair the elections board. She spent 22 years as an attorney with the City of Atlanta. For the last 14 years she has been in private practice and since 2005 has served as secretary of the League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County.

The website of the Registration and Elections Board confirms that she remains the Chairperson. While Ms. Cooney's position does not require her to officially state membership of a party, her past campaign contributions show that she has contributed repeatedly and exclusively to Democrats, including John Kerry, Barack Obama, John Lewis, Jim Martin (who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in Georgia,) and others. It appears that she stopped contributing to political campaigns after her appointment to the election board. So, based on her own campaign contributions, the party of the commissioner who appointed her, and the fact that she was previously the Deputy City Attorney for Atlanta (which, as previously mentioned, has been run by Democrats continuously since the 1800s,) it seems fair to conclude that she's a Democrat.

This is not at all to suggest any wrongdoing on her part, nor that this situation is unusual. It almost certainly isn't. It's also not to suggest that the elections in Fulton County (or anywhere else) have been unfair. At least on a meaningful scale, that seems unlikely. But that isn't the subject of this question. This question is asking if the election apparatus is run by Democrats. Completely unsurprisingly, in Atlanta, it is. Just as it's almost certainly run by Republicans in the majority of Georgia's rural counties. Elections in the U.S. are run by the local governments and, thus, the people running them normally reflect the political views of the local population.

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    It's still not clear why it is relevant, though. Are there any specific problems there, except that the votes coming from those counties are more towards Democrats? Nov 7 '20 at 8:32
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    @EricDuminil That's a good question, but it's not the one that was asked here. It would probably be best answered as a separate question, linking to this one for context.
    – reirab
    Nov 7 '20 at 8:35
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    Unless I am mistaken, election board of Fulton county (where Atlanta is located) consists of two democrats, two republicans, and a non-partisan chairman. So to say that it is "run by democrats" assumes that the non-partisan chairman is partisan. Is that your claim? Is so, what is it based on?
    – Anders
    Nov 7 '20 at 21:17
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    @reirab Yes, but being selected by a democrat is not the same as being controled by a democrat. It could be, but it is still a case that needs to be made. Example: The swedish central bank board is selected by politicians, still anyone claiming "the central bank is run by party X" would be lying.
    – Anders
    Nov 7 '20 at 23:13
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    "But that isn't the subject of this question." - Oh, but it is, because the notion that a counting center run by Democrats won't/can't count votes fairly is exactly the implication that Trump is making. A good answer would strongly refute this first, before getting into the vagaries about which party the staffers probably belong to and why.
    – aroth
    Nov 9 '20 at 10:38
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Unclear what the basis for Trump’s claim is. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who runs Georgia's Elections Division, is a Republican, as is the state’s governor.

Republican Brad Raffensperger wins runoff for Georgia secretary of state (Dec. 4, 2018)

Raffensperger said he would continue Gov.-elect Brian Kemp's practice of strictly enforcing ID laws and pruning election rolls of inactive voters.

Addendum: Some of the other answers assert without evidence that the local election administrators in Georgia must be Democrats because urban areas where most of the votes are cast lean Democratic. (There is some cognitive dissonance in suggesting that the partisan tilt of a region is unfairly due to elected officials you assume are of one party because you're certain of the partisan tilt of the region.) Georgia elections are run under rules approved by the Republican-led legislature and overseen by a Republican-led elections board. Georgia's largest counties and apparently most, if not all, of the others have elections boards comprised of two Republican appointees, two Democrat appointees, and a non-partisan chairperson appointed by the county's executive committee. (Some boards are one of each party and three county-level appointees.) A detailed analysis of the county appointees might show a tilt one way or the other, but offhand this is hardly consistent with being "the election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats."

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    to me, this sounds less "unclear" and more like a plain "no". is there some aspect not (yet) included in your answer that makes you hesitate? Nov 6 '20 at 12:52
  • @nonthevisor It very much looks like no to me. However, the Trump campaign may make specific allegations if it brings suit in Georgia, and if that happens a complete answer would need to evaluate them.
    – richardb
    Nov 6 '20 at 13:37
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    to add, the current Governor (elected in 2018) was the previous Georgia Secretary of State who oversees the election (kind of an absurd function to oversee the election process you yourself are running in). but the entire state election administration is devised by the Republican Governor and Legislature.npr.org/2019/04/04/709911541/…
    – dasMetzger
    Nov 6 '20 at 16:26
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    While this may be true for the entire state, it’s not too much of a leap to think he was referring to the relevant areas to the situation right now (Atlanta, surrounding counties), where the elections are run by Democrats. I think this answer would be improved by mentioning that (and definitely not making it an outright “No”, as clearly a large portion of votes in Georgia are counted by Democratic officials). Nov 7 '20 at 15:53
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    "and a non-partisan chairperson appointed by the county's executive committee" Guess which party controls the executive committee... Maybe the one which has controlled the Mayor's office without gap for nearly 150 years? Also, my answer does not at all suggest anything about the partisan tilt of any region being 'unfair.' Trump may have suggested that, but I'm not. I strongly doubt that it is. But that wasn't the question that was asked. The fact is that the election apparatus in the Atlanta area (and a few other blue-leaning parts of Georgia) is indeed run primarily by Democrats.
    – reirab
    Nov 7 '20 at 19:41
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No. The last time Georgia voted blue was 1992, for Bill Clinton's first term, and that's almost entirely explained by the 13.34% of Georgia voters who voted for Ross Perot. Currently, Georgia has a state government trifecta of the same political party, with control of the governor's office, the Georgia Senate, and the Georgia House of Representatives. Democrats have exactly zero influence over the way the state government, and by extension, its electoral apparatus, runs.

However, President Trump has a long history of accusing parties that do not bend to his will of partisanship. Examples include Robert Mueller and his team of investigators, Google, and Twitter.

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    You assert that those specific accusations are false without evidence. There's a nontrivial amount of evidence suggesting that Twitter, for example, is somewhat partisan. Asserting that it is not should require more than an empty claim.
    – Ben Barden
    Nov 6 '20 at 19:40
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    I have removed the word 'falsely'. The articles most certainly show that he accuses people of partisanship a lot.
    – Carduus
    Nov 6 '20 at 21:17
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    "Democrats have exactly zero influence over the way the state government, and by extension, its electoral apparatus, runs." This is completely false. Electoral commissions, not only in Georgia, but in every state, are run by the local government, not the state government. The local governments in the Atlanta metro area (and nearly every other part of Georgia in which Biden leads) are run by Democrats.
    – reirab
    Nov 6 '20 at 23:37
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    Yeah, Democrats have office in Georgia, so that's plainly false and hyperbolic.
    – fredsbend
    Nov 7 '20 at 2:39
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In Georgia as in all states, the meaningful plurality of ballot-counting and other election machinery (weighted by number of votes, which is of course the important metric here) happens in cities and urban areas, which are therefore effectively run by people affiliated with the Democrat Party; it is possible that this the inference of the claim.

To explain this point: the general apparatus of (for example) who is responsible for manning the locations, hiring the volunteers, counting the votes, making decisions on how close observers should be etc. working in local circuit courts etc. in the case of disputes etc. are expected to come primarily from people living locally, which naturally over-samples from Democrat-voting areas.

For reference, the 11 counties of Atlanta city region have so far counted c.2.3M votes out of the total 4.9M votes across 159 counties. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/results-georgia.html

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    This doesn't make sense to me. The vast majority of districts in Georgia voted predominantly for Trump. Therefore people pulled in those areas working as election workers would by your logic be predominantly Republican voters. What leads you to say they would be over-sampled Democrats? Nov 6 '20 at 18:23
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    What evidence do you have that the 'meaningful plurality of ballot counting and other election machinery' happens in cities and urban areas? Doesn't each district count and report separately? Nov 6 '20 at 18:29
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    Of 159 counties in Georgia, only 29 have Biden leading. Assuming some minimum number of election personnel in each county, you'd expect to see that people from red counties are over-represented among election personnel. A county that gets 100x as many ballots likely does not require 100x as many personnel to process them. Nov 6 '20 at 18:34
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    Skeptics.SE requires sources, no matter how obvious or dubious the claim Nov 6 '20 at 18:49
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    @Zac I don't see how that figure supports your point. You're suggesting that 11 counties counting 2.3M votes requires more election workers than 148 counties counting 2.6M votes, when it's likely the opposite. Smaller districts are likely to be less personnel-efficient since they cannot take advantage of economy of scale. Nov 6 '20 at 19:19

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