Type to search

DeKalb Elections Board sets special election in November for two county commission seats

campaign coverage DeKalb County

DeKalb Elections Board sets special election in November for two county commission seats

Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — In their meeting on March 18, the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections decided to hold a special election on Nov. 5 for the District 3 and District 7 seats on the DeKalb Board of Commissioners.

After discussing alternatives, the board decided the special election would have to be held in November due to an unfortunate confluence of procedure and circumstance.

These seats, formerly held by CEO candidates Lorraine Cochran-Johnson and Larry Johnson, were vacated in March when the candidates officialy qualified for the CEO race. Both had previously declared their intent to run for CEO.

The special election for these seats couldn’t have been called before the vacancy was created. The timing of their qualifying for office created a vacancy after the cut-off date to call for a special election with the May primary.

According to Georgia state law, an election could have been called for in June if this had been an odd-numbered year. But given it is an even-numbered year, any election has to be placed on the primary election ballot in May or wait for the general election in November.

Under state law, the only way to avoid the “90-days prior” cut-off point is for the election to be “conducted completely separate and apart from such state-wide general primary or state-wide general election using different ballots or voting equipment, facilities, poll workers, and paperwork.”

Department of Voter Registration and Elections Executive Director Keisha Smith presented the district’s investigations into what holding an earlier separate election would entail.

The earliest it could happen would be May 21, and Smith reported that the districts would face significant hurdles. Holding a “completely separate and apart” election would require the hiring of around 400 new poll workers and 110 new polling places for a total cost of roughly $1.5 million.

This cost estimate was for just the basic equipment and staff and does not include buying warehouse space, training poll workers, or marketing material notifying the public and clarifying the difference between the two elections.

Staff training presents a logistical challenge in and of itself, as the DeKalb Board of Elections would have to recruit and train new poll workers, even for higher-level administrative positions, at the same time. Staff made no recommendation and framed the report as simply presenting challenges.

The meeting was standing room only, with several candidates and elected officials in attendance. In public comment, many citizens addressed the Elections Board, stating that being underrepresented until November was unacceptable.

Two board members, Chair Karli Swift and Anthony Lewis, live in County Commission District 3 and expressed direct sympathy for the public’s concerns. Broadly, the board seemed reluctant to have the election in November, but given they are subject to state law, they felt that there wasn’t much that could be done.

“To put on one election the staff will work 15-hour days for months at a time, sometimes up to a year,” Lewis said.

Board Member Vasu Abhiraman has been a poll worker before, and based on his familiarity with the process, he said, “There are a lot of logistics here that present a near impossibility given the law as it stands.”

Though many attendees expressed frustration at the Board of Elections, District 3 resident Willy Pringle said, “It’s the commissioners’ fault.”

“They already knew they were gonna resign,” Pringle said. “They should have resigned in a way that there would be time to hold a special election, but they didn’t.”

Ultimately, the Board voted unanimously to hold the special election on Nov. 5

In other news:

– The board approved the results of the March 12 presidential primary. President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump won their respective primaries.

– The board also approved the May polling locations with the addition of Neighborhood Church at 1561 McLendon Ave NE, as an advance voting location site.

– The elections board approved recommended action items based on VOTE resolution expanding language access, notably adding Amharic to the list of languages voting materials will be translated into, and adding Chinese, French, Bengali and Vietnamese to secondary languages.

– They also approved an online training module provided by SCYTL for poll workers, and deferred approval of an online module provided by SCYTL for an election night display with graphs and maps.

Want Decaturish delivered to your inbox every day? Sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here.

If you appreciate our work on this story, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $10 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community.