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DeKalb prepares for this year’s elections while looking forward to next year

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DeKalb prepares for this year’s elections while looking forward to next year

L to R Board Chair Karli Swift, Vice Chair Vasu Abhiraman, Board member Anthony Lewis, Board member Susan Motter, Board member Nancy Jester, resident Naomi Bock. By Sara Amis, contributor

DeKalb County, GA — The regular meeting of the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections held on Thursday, Oct. 12 was mostly devoted to Department of Registration and Elections Director Keisha Smith’s report on preparations for this year’s municipal elections.

Smith said that while the number is “a moving target,” DeKalb currently has 573,755 registered voters. Voter registration closed on Tuesday, Oct. 10, and Smith said that her department is working to process about 1,000 handwritten applications, 1,000 MyVoter online applications, and 5,000 Department of Driver Services applications.

Advance voting begins Oct. 16, and will run through Nov. 3, including the weekends of Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 28-29. 

Advance voting poll locations include Berean Christian Church, Bessie Branham Recreation Center, Clarkston Library, County Line-Ellenwood Library, the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Office, Dunwoody Library, Emory University, Lynwood Recreation Center, North DeKalb Senior Center, The Gallery at South DeKalb, Stonecrest (former Sam’s Club), Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library, and Wesley Chapel-William C. Brown Library.

Wade Walker YMCA will not be an advance voting location this year. 

Smith said that the county’s new voting hub equipment is being received and will be used in all precincts on election day, and that poll worker training on new equipment including poll pads is ongoing.

The elections board approved a list of 174 poll managers, one for each precinct. Board member Nancy Jester said that some people had expressed concerns about balancing the political leanings of poll workers and managers. Jester asked if any of the managers had expressed partisan leanings, and also said that she would like to know how long each manager had worked for the department for the future.

Smith said that the department mainly starts hiring from the pool of last year’s workers. Smith added that both recruiting and poll worker training are ongoing and that the department still has some positions to fill.

During public comment, resident Bill Harrison expressed opposition to a plan to contract with non-profits, who would be allowed to fundraise in return for recruiting poll workers. Harrison asserted that the plan had worked poorly in other places and that groups hired unqualified workers, “even some foreign nationals.”

In response to a question from board member Anthony Lewis, Smith said that the idea was still under review by attorneys and would not be implemented this year.

Looking forward to next year, Smith said that 2024 is predicted to have record turnout and that the likely necessity of hiring more permanent staff is being considered in her department’s budgeting process. Smith added that they would outgrow the current space and would need to remodel some areas to make them suitable.

Board member Susan Motter asked Smith to clarify for the public that the line items showing negative balances in the department’s budget do not mean that the department is in the red.

Smith said that some items such as security services and temporary workers were not previously budgeted and are recategorized as the budget is revised.

“Those encumbrances are held at the beginning of the budget cycle and predict what we’re going to spend…Next month you won’t see any negative numbers because it’s being cleaned up,” Smith said.

Motter said that she wanted that explained so that people would not be alarmed by the negative numbers.

“The bottom line is we have adequate funds through the rest of the year and this election,” Motter said.

In addition, Smith said that her department is updating a new poll worker manual for next year, and is also preparing a proposal in response to the DeKalb County Commission’s resolution calling for translation of voter materials.

Smith also stated that she would like for the department to join the Partnership for Large Election Jurisdictions, an organization which is open to the three largest jurisdictions in a state or those over 300,000. Membership is $150 and involves sharing best practices.

Jester and Motter were somewhat skeptical because the organization is brand new.

In response to a question from Motter, Smith said that if DeKalb joins, it will be the second county in Georgia after Gwinnett.

Board member Vasu Abhiraman said that he felt the membership obligations were minimal and did not bind the county to anything. 

“We can leave for any reason,” Abhiraman said.

Motter said that due to the amount of scrutiny that the board and department are under, she felt it was better to learn more.

“I don’t like surprises,” Motter said.

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