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Georgia’s 159 county elections offices are facing myriad new challenges this year as they gear up for the all-important May primaries and midterm elections in November.
Concerns over new, more restrictive election laws, along with retirements, have sent thousands of seasonal poll workers packing and prompted experienced county elections staff statewide to retire.
Meanwhile, private donations that many cash-strapped county elections offices relied on to run their polls have dried up, due to laws enacted last year after the hotly contested 2020 presidential election.
Atlanta Civic Circle spoke to veteran election administrators Janine Eveler in Cobb County, Milton Kidd in Douglas County, and Joseph Kirk in Bartow County to find out how the new laws affect them, and how to improve Georgia’s voting rules.
Kidd and Kirk recently appeared before the Georgia House Special Committee on Election Integrity to offer their suggestions on this year’s sweeping bill to change voting rules, HB 1464, which is now before the state Senate.
“We talked about things we thought could make the bill better,” Kirk told Atlanta Civic Circle. “Unfortunately, they didn’t take any of our advice. In fact, they went directly against us.”
The proposed new law would allow the public to inspect ballots without a court order, shift decisions about receiving private donations from local election offices to the state elections board, and authorize the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to start election fraud investigations without first being asked by the Secretary of State, even though the GBI’s probes of fraud allegations from the 2020 elections didn’t find any fraud.
Here’s what they had to say:
Title: Director of the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration
Years in election administration: 17
Registered voters: About 500,000
Biggest challenge or concern: “I couldn’t even say one thing. There are so many different things.”
Why I still do this job: “This is my career, and it’s very fulfilling.”
Solution: Lawmakers should ask election officials in the trenches for input. “Do the research with us before implementing restrictive laws.”
Title: Douglas County Director of Elections and Registration
Years in election administration: 10
Registered voters: 106,000
Biggest challenge or concern: “Unfunded mandates. For example, [HB 1464] would allow the public to inspect absentee ballots without a court order. As soon as you pass that legislation, I’m going to have hundreds of requests.
To inspect our ballots will require a member of my staff to be physically holding the ballots or turning them for people,” he said, requiring additional staff that the office can’t afford.
Why I still do this job: “I understand what it means to do this job. I’m the first African American in my position. I come to this with the knowledge that individuals like [slain Mississippi civil rights activist] Medger Evers literally laid down their lives to register people to vote.
“The election and registration process is how we as Americans choose to govern ourselves. This process has to work. It has to be free of partisan interference.”
Solution: “Create a nonpartisan panel of current and former election officials and members of external organizations. The panel would offer regulatory advice to legislators. It’s a missed opportunity not to include individuals who are going to be asked to carry out these tasks in writing the rules.”
Title: Elections Supervisor of the Bartow County Board of Voter Registration and Elections
Years in election administration: 20
Registered voters: 75,000
Biggest challenge or concern: “The lack of education among the public about elections. We teach kids about the suffrage movement, the civil rights era, and the birth of our nation – and how all these things came to be.
“We don’t tell them about how to register to vote, what’s expected of you once you’re registered or your options for voting. If we never tell them, how can we expect them to know? That just creates fertile ground for misinformation.”
Why I still do this job: “I fell in love with it. It is something amazing. It’s a different day every day at work. I get to interpret things. I get to talk to people, train people, and have an impact on my community. That’s what keeps me going.”
Solution: “Include election officials in the legislative process. Right now, the only way we get any say at all is to sort of inject ourselves in the process.
“If we come together, and are included in the process, we could come up with things that really work that benefit the voters, benefit election administrators, and create a strong process that is not partisan. But it’s not part of what we have [in the current system] – to be able to make that happen.”
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