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Disputed GOP election in Georgia underscores bitter divide of post-Trump Republican Party

Incumbent party chairman reportedly installed after upstart won do-over election.

Updated: May 1, 2021 - 12:20pm

A bitter public dispute over a local GOP election in Georgia is further underscoring the internecine warfare roiling the Republican Party in the wake of former President Donald Trump's 2020 election loss. 

The infighting turns on a recent intra-GOP election held by Republicans in Fulton County, the state's largest, for the position of local party chairman. The Georgia Republican Party directed all counties to hold conventions on April 17 last month. Those conventions, per the state GOP's rules, are intended to "elect County Delegates and Alternates to the District and State Conventions" as well as elect their own officers and members.

In Fulton County, incumbent chairman Trey Kelly reportedly lost his bid for reelection to newcomer Susan Opraseuth, with Ospraseuth touting her outsider status compared to Kelly's three terms in that role since 2015. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Kelly had actually won an initial election, though she claimed the final tally contained "more votes than voters," after which a second election put Ospraseuth ahead. 

Yet the Fulton GOP nevertheless "awarded [Kelly] his chairmanship back," Greene claimed, "on appeal of a supposed technicality of words 'point of order' or 'objection'." 

Jamie Parrish, a delegate to the county convention, told Just the News that the meeting was held at the Metropolitan Club in Alpharetta, Ga. 

Parrish said that custom dictates a party chairman running for reelection chooses an acting chair to preside over the convention. Kelly chose Rusty Paul, the mayor of Sandy Springs, Ga., to chair the meeting, Parrish said. 

"We were very lucky in Fulton County to have over 40% new delegation, people who were really upset about the past election in Georgia, the non-transparency of it," Parrish said. "So we really grew by quite a bit."

Parrish claimed that the county convention, under Kelly's direction, opted to hold the vote for chairman using "little colored tiddlywinks."

"They had nine very large-statured men come out with red solo cups to collect the tiddlywinks," Parrish said. He claimed that one vote-collecting official "walked behind the stage" of the event hall and "was completely out of everyone's sight for several minutes" before returning to view. 

When the final votes were counted, Parrish said, Kelly was declared the winner by three, though Parrish — echoing Marjorie Taylor Greene's comments — claimed that the number of tiddlywinks counted was greater than the number of voters by one. 

Enough delegates demanded a recount that the convention again collected everyone's votes, submitted this time by "a single-file line" into "one single vessel." In that contest, he said, Opraseuth won by 24 votes.

Kelly reportedly promised to appeal that result to state Republican superiors. Parrish claimed Kelly made his case on the basis of a parliamentary rule objection; the results in Opraseuth's favor were overturned unanimously, he said. 

The Fulton GOP appears to have at least initially certified the election results in Ospraseuth's favor. The party's leadership page earlier this week identified her as the party's chairman. Yet as of Friday afternoon, Kelly himself was listed in that position, with a note on the website stating that his chairmanship was to be awarded "pending resolution of appeal to State Committee." 

Officials with the Fulton County GOP did not respond to inquiries by phone and email regarding the controversy. State GOP Chairman David Shafer also did not respond to a query seeking comment on the controversy. Parrish said county rules dictate that the issue be decided in no more than 30 days.

The tension underscores what is likely to be the bitter strife in the years ahead — in both Georgia and other states — over the Republican Party's direction, and whether it will hew closely to the agenda set by Trump since 2016, if it will return to its pre-Trumpian roots, or if it will abandon both and wade into uncharted waters. 

Kelly himself positioned his own politics as firmly in the pro-Trump camp: Facebook photos show him variously behind a "Georgia is Trump Country" sign and wearing a Make America Great Again hat, and he reportedly told convention officials last month that the 2020 election was "stolen," a common refrain among Trump supporters. 

Yet his status as a relatively seasoned veteran of Republican politics nevertheless makes him a prime target in the post-Trump era, when even Trump-friendly candidates may face the wrath of voters loyal to the former president and still smarting over the 2020 loss. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have also borne the ire of both Trump and his followers since the 2020 election, with partisans accusing Kemp of being too deferential to progressive vote reformers in the state and Raffensperger coming under fire for allegedly failing to do enough to root out voter fraud among the 2020 election results.