Discord, rumors and accusations roil DeKalb elections department ahead of Nov. 3 voteOfficial Absentee Ballot Drop Box at 4380 Memorial Drive in greater Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor
Greater Decatur, GA — Commissioner Lorraine Cochran Johnson described leadership in DeKalb County’s Department of Voter Registration and Elections as “discord at the highest level” at a special called meeting Friday, Sept. 25.
This week, the department faced accusations of obstruction and lack of communication around processing ballots, use of pro bono and contract staff, and preparation for the election cycle.
First came press coverage from the AJC about a backlog of thousands of ballots, which director Erica Hamilton denies, calling the number of ballots “a moving target.”
Hamilton refuted the claim: “We wanted to make sure that duplicates were verified before ballots were sent out. When I left last night [Sept. 22], it was down to 15 [unprocessed absentee ballot applications].”
Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson reminded Hamilton, “You have all the resources to hire whomever needs to be hired.”
Then, a rumor that National Vote at Home Institute, an organization involved with Georgia’s voting process since February, withdrew pro bono aid to DeKalb County due to lack of engagement.
In a Sept. 23 meeting, Vote at Home consultant Hillary Hall committed to flying to Atlanta Sept. 25 to meet with DeKalb County commissioners, the Board of Voter Registration and Elections, and staff at the department.
NVAHI consultant Amber McReynolds, who worked onsite in DeKalb County, submitted a report that the relationship with DeKalb slowed due to “a lack of access, a lack of information, a lack of communication.”
“We absolutely need full cooperation and we just haven’t had it up to this point, for whatever reason,” McReynolds said. “If we can’t get exactly what we need, the information we ask for – access to seeing processes, access to being able to map out how long things take … if we don’t have staff that is engaged, and has either the time or the bandwidth to work with us, there’s not very much we can do at this point other than advise and respond to issues as they arise.”
Susan Motter, member of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said she is displeased, embarrassed, and frustrated that the department has not taken advantage of resources it was offered.
At Friday’s special called meeting, board members and staff discussed the rumor that Project Manager Eric Burton and his communications team are leaving the department of voter registration and elections.
Board member Dele Lowman Smith, who advocated hiring Burton, said he resigned due to the inability to execute basic items, lack of support, and lack of communication.
Board chair Sam Tillman called Smith’s allegation “totally inaccurate.” Hamilton also disputed the claim, stating that Burton is not leaving, and she plans to talk to him about communication issues.
Despite the turmoil, Hamilton has repeatedly said, “We are prepared for what is before us. We are ready for what is before us. We look forward to the journey ahead.”
The Board voted unanimously to meet weekly until the Nov. 3 election to work on communication.
Absentee ballots can be dropped off at one of 16 locations listed. To see the locations, click here.
Early voting begins Oct. 12. A complete list of early voting locations has not yet been posted online. Three new locations include former Sam’s Club building, 2994 Turner Hill Road, Stonecrest; Rebecca Hall at Agnes Scott College, 141 E. College Ave., Decatur; and former Hawks’ player Paul Millsap’s facility CORE 4 Atlanta, 2050 Will Ross Court, Chamblee.
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