Elections board wants to keep supervision

BY RAY LIGHTNER STAFF WRITER RAY@GRIFFINDAILYNEWS.COM
The Spalding County Board of Elections voted 3-1-1 to retain supervision of the elections supervisor.

That recommendation will be sent to the Spalding County Board of Commissioners, which tabled the matter earlier this month about requesting a change in the local legislation to change or clarify the supervision of the elections supervisor. The county commission is scheduled to take up the matter at the next meeting on Feb. 19.

Board of Elections members Margaret Bentley, Glenda Henley and Brooks Ballard were in favor of retaining supervision, with Chairman Betty Bryant opposed and new member Randy Gooden abstaining. Gooden explained “in the current situation, the elections supervisor is still not reporting solely to the Board of Elections, in practice it has been more of a combination.”

He was initially in favor of retention of control, with conditions.

“In my opinion,” Gooden said, “the county manager is the best person to oversee day-to-day operations and budget. Conducting the elections and voter registration should be in control of the board.”

He and other members shared concerns about a person supervised by elected officials supervising the elections supervisor.

“To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, it’s best the Board of Elections oversee the elections supervisor,” Gooden said, but added that “discipline, hiring and firing by the county manager be done with the consent of the Board of Elections.”

Bentley pointed out “the county manager is already in charge of budgets, financials. The county is responsible for providing space and all that we have no part in.”

Gooden wanted it “better defined in writing” with a “tightening or the wording.”

Brooks said he’d like the Board of Elections to “keep supervision, so the county manager does not have the authority to solely discipline without the input of the Board of Elections.”

Henley said “we do have the power to hire and fire.”

Bryant said she “just wanted it to be clearer.”

Henley did not see what the rush was.

“It can stand for more debate,” Henley said. “I don’t see the rush to send it to the Legislature.”

To get legislation passed this session of the Georgia General Assembly, it must pass one house by crossover day, which is Feb. 28, according to the consensus calendar for the General Assembly, and must pass the other house by the final day of the session, scheduled for March 29.

Griffin Branch NAACP Chairman Jewel Walker-Harps also spoke at the meeting and said, “things were not all right with the staff at the Voter Registration Office prior to Mrs. (Marcia) Ridley coming to work. Several complaints had been reported to prior registrars regarding the reported treatment of potential voters and others seeking information.”

Walker-Harps said, “the lack of improvement in the way elderly, impaired or deprived persons were treated warranted the organization to prepare to ask that the staff be fired. However, before this happened some had resigned,” adding that the “failure to acknowledge the apparent incompetency of the office workers and to blame the newly-hired voter registrar have been unfair.”

She said, “the most disturbing part of the picture is the failure to acknowledge that the real victims are the citizens who wanted to express their views at the ballot box and to persons who placed their names on the ballot to serve. They were the ones who suffered, who lost that right.”

Walker-Harps was cut off at the 2-minute time limit set for public comments, but provided her full and revised comments to the Griffin Daily News.

In those comments, Walker-Harps cited the new audit results saying, “it has been proven that many persons were denied that right by being given ballots which placed them in the wrong district. This certainly had to be the preparation of those running the office,” opining that ”the massive inefficiency or the lack of knowledge of staff not only denied persons the right to vote for their choice but could possibly have had a negative outcome of some districts.”

Two candidates in the last city election took their complaints to Ridley and then to the state elections office. Final audit results have not be released, but at least 38 voters in the city were found to be listed in the wrong district.

Of the “1,110 issues” found in a comparison of voter registration and local GIS (geographic information system) data, about 370 voters were projected to be found to be registered in the wrong district.

Walker-Harps said in her written comments, “the NAACP concludes that the comfort of employees in their jobs and the structure of who has the power at the moment pales compared to a fair and valid electoral process provided for the citizens of Spalding County. It is not over yet. There are still questions to be answered. The NAACP promises to be more vigilant in the observance of future elections and more importantly demand accountability and transparency.”

The Board of Elections also decided to cancel its meeting scheduled for March 13, since early voting will be going on for the March 20 special election to elect the clerk of courts. Logistics and accuracy testing of 47 voting machines will be held next week, Feb. 21 and 22, beginning at 10 a.m. each day.

Board of Elections members, poll workers and elections office staff will be conducting the testing before the machines are sent out to the polls.