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DeKalb adds polling places, staff to prep for August runoff

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DeKalb adds polling places, staff to prep for August runoff

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By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

Greater Decatur, GA — DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections July 9 voted unanimously to add two early voting locations in Tucker and Stonecrest for the Aug. 11 runoff election.

Decaturish is working to obtain more information about the addresses of the new early voting locations.

The June 9 Primary Election was a chaotic one. It was repeatedly delayed by COVID-19 pandemic and marred by precinct closures, long lines and malfunctioning machines on Election Day. The election also involved the use of new voting machines supplied by Dominion Voting Systems and counting tens of thousands of mail-in ballots cast by voters who wanted to skip lines and avoid potential exposure to coronavirus on Election Day.

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The county will need to find new polling locations on the west side, because Atlanta Public Schools refused to host polls the first week of school, according to one DeKalb county official.

“Our polling places told us they’re no longer available,” said Erica Hamilton, director of voter registration and elections for DeKalb County. Atlanta Public Schools are set to open Aug. 9.

But that was the simplest part of the meeting, televised on DeKalb County’s UStream channel. For nearly two hours, board members debated a three-part resolution to improve the DeKalb County Department of Voter Registration and Elections (VRE) presented by Vice Chair Baoky Vu.

The resolution includes hiring staff to streamline the voting process in DeKalb County. The first proposal for a review of VRE was published in December 2019.

Discussions were tense while Board Chair Samuel Tillman and Vu hashed out details.

Tillman asked seven times to table the resolution until it was revised to suit the needs of voter registration and elections.

“I would like to have some discussion with you, Mr. Vice Chair, and if necessary, we can get back together next week,” Tillman suggested, adding he was not ready to sign the resolution as presented.

Vu didn’t take “no” for an answer. He proposed voting on each resolution separately.

First, the board unanimously passed a resolution to hire a communications specialist to plan and implement voter outreach efforts.

Next, board member Dele Lowman Smith proposed a motion to approve and implement the recommendations previously presented to the board in time for the Nov. 3 general election – except for item 1A, hiring a Chief Operations Officer.

The board vote passed 3 to 2; Smith, Vu, and Susan Motter voted yes, while Tillman and Anthony Lewis voted no.

Lastly, the board agreed unanimously to table the final resolution to hire a consultant to oversee absentee ballot processes.

Lewis asked for more discussion.

“I want to make sure our staff is focused on elections,” Lewis said. “That’s all. Sometimes I feel, over the past year, maybe year and a half, the focus has gotten a little spread out within the department and our staff is not able to focus directly on an election. And so, I want to be sure that if we do bring in a consultant, that our staff is on board with it and they feel like this is something that is going to help the department.”

Hamilton, who would work directly with the hired staff, remained neutral.

“I am here at the pleasure of the board. Staff will do whatever the board votes upon,” she said repeatedly.

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Vu and Hamilton plan to discuss the resolution item to hire a consultant and return with more information at a special-called meeting on July 16.

The final vote of the evening was unanimously in favor of sending an absentee ballot mailer in early August for the Nov. 3 general election.

“Rather than have our voters in DeKalb reach out to us, to obtain an absentee ballot to fill it out, we will be proactive much like the Secretary of State was for the … Nov. 3 election,” said Motter.

DeKalb County Board of Registrar’s Office is responsible for sending applications for absentee ballots to its residents. Previously, ballots came from the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Georgia allows absentee voting by mail, with no excuse required, requested up to 180 days before an election.

Motter said DeKalb County commissioners are funding the mailer.

“We all share the same philosophy that the more opportunities that we provide our voters to vote, be it by absentee ballot, early voting, or at the polls on Election Day, that is a great thing,” Motter said.

Hamilton announced polls will be set up the night before the Aug. 11 runoff election, to cut down confusion and technical problems.

The board ended the meeting to go into a closed-door executive session to discuss litigation. The next meeting is July 16 to discuss the remainder of the resolution presented by Vu.

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