Georgia's election board leader who debunked unfounded 2020 election fraud claims is stepping down

ATLANTA (AP) — The retired federal judge leading Georgia's State Election Board is resigning effective Friday from the panel, which sought under his tenure to debunk unfounded claims of election fraud stemming from the 2020 presidential vote.

Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Monday that William “Bill” Duffey Jr. would be stepping down, although his resignation letter was dated July 18.

Duffey wrote that he wanted to step down now that the board has transitioned to a freestanding agency under Georgia's 2021 election law. It previously was chaired by the secretary of state.

“Now that a new board structure is in place, it is important to name the next chair in sufficient time for that person to continue to prepare for the 2024 election cycle,” Duffey wrote.

The board makes rules for state elections and recommends what should be done about people who break rules and laws.

Duffey had only been appointed in June 2022, after a yearlong delay following the passage of the law.

Under Duffey, the board sought to reassure people that the state’s elections remained secure following a breach of voting equipment in south Georgia's Coffee County. The board also sought to debunk unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 election, including a claim that poll workers discovered forged ballots printed on different paper and claims that election workers improperly counted “suitcases” full of ballots.

The board declined to take over elections in Fulton County after a review found administration had improved despite problems. The board voted in July to sue Texas-based True the Vote, asking a judge to force the group to disclose information that the group claims proves people illegally collected and deposited ballots in drop boxes in 2020 and 2021.

Board meetings have often been contentious, with those who claim Georgia's 2020 presidential election was stolen packing meetings to lambaste the board. In recent months, many of those people have turned their energies to calling for state elections to be conducted on paper ballots and counted by hand.

Either Kemp or lawmakers will name a new chair for the board. The law lets Kemp name the leader when the General Assembly is not in session, as long as that choice is confirmed by lawmakers the next time they meet. If Kemp doesn't act by January, the House could nominate and the Senate confirm a new chair.

No matter who is chosen, they are supposed to abstain from running for office, giving campaign contributions, or participating in party politics. The chair must have not been a candidate for partisan office, given campaign contributions to a candidate for partisan office, or participated in partisan organization for two years before being appointed.

The board has four other members, one elected by the state House, one by the state Senate, and one named by each of the Democratic and Republican parties. In practice, that makes the breakdown three Republicans, one Democrat and the nonpartisan chair.

Duffey was nominated as a federal judge in Georgia’s northern district by Republican President George W. Bush in 2004 and served until stepping down from active service in 2018. Before that, Duffey was chosen by Bush as U.S. attorney for the same district. Duffey was also Bush’s Georgia campaign finance chairman.

From 1994 to 1995, Duffey was a deputy to Kenneth Starr investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton, overseeing the Arkansas part of the Whitewater investigation. Before and after that, he was a partner with Atlanta-based King & Spalding, where he worked on matters including internal corporate investigations.