MACON, Ga. — While much of the political world is focused on 2022 contests, Macon-Bibb County is less than two months from the first test of the state’s new election law.
The Board of Elections is ramping up for the Nov. 2 special election referendum on the Other Local Options Sales Tax. The OLOST, as it’s commonly called, would add a penny sales tax on the dollar for Macon-Bibb government purchases and services while allowing for a property tax rollback.
Elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson is not ready to let go of support from Dominion Voting, to which Georgia paid $107 million in July 2019 for 30,000 new electronic voting machines.
“So, we haven’t held one single election on our own without Dominion,” Watson told the board this week. “And I’m not saying we can’t move forward in the future in doing so, but right now, with all the changes and everything and this election coming up, I do feel strongly that we shouldn’t be without onsite support until we’re ready with time to get more trained on and familiar with the functionality before we move forward.”
Under the state’s contract, Dominion provided support last year for all Georgia’s counties.
This year, Macon-Bibb is poised to pay $34,000 for four weeks of support from the same representative the local office had last year.
“He helped us through the fire last year,” Watson said.
Although Dominion balked at signing a contract suggested by a Macon-Bibb County attorney, the election board’s attorney, William Noland, did not feel it was necessary.
“I don’t think there’s any liability on our part that would be solved by a contract,” Noland told the board.
Elections board member Joel Hazard suggested adding language to the purchase agreement in lieu of a contract.
Watson explained how the pandemic adversely affected poll worker training.
“We had absolutely no hands-on last year. We were at the mercy of that Dominion rep,” she said.
The professional agreement would provide Dominion support for logic and accuracy testing through post-election reporting. A machine is available for testing and practice at the board of elections.
Records, registration and absentee ballots
Watson also updated the board on the status of dozens of open records requests that bombarded the office over the past year.
Only two remained open, including a request from Voter GA, an organization suing to ban the Dominion Voting System in Georgia.
Watson said she already preserved the ballot images and risk-limiting audit report the group requested from the 2020 Presidential Election and January run-off.
With the flurry of document requests, she plans to add an open records request form to the county elections website and open access to records in a shared drive to help staff speed up processing requests.
There are also state-mandated changes to absentee ballot applications and voter registration procedures. A copy of the two-page application is now available online.
Voter registration packets also will be available to help registrars navigate the new rules and regulations for organizing registration drives, Watson said.
Recent reports show 95% of Georgia’s eligible voters are already registered.
National Voter Registration Day is Tuesday and a network of more than a dozen local organizations is promoting voter education in light of the changes in Georgia law.
Middle GA Votes will hold a news conference Monday at 10 a.m. at Rosa Parks Square to introduce the coalition and announce its goals.
Election dates and deadlines
Oct. 4 is the deadline to register to be eligible to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
Advanced voting begins Tues., Oct. 12 at the Board of Elections at 2525 Pio Nono Ave. and at the Elaine Lucas Senior Center in Carolyn Crayton Park and Theron Ussery Park in north Macon, if renovations there are complete. Polls will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each weekday until Friday, Oct. 29.
Saturday voting is scheduled for Oct. 16 and 23 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at each location.
No one proposed Sunday voting when the board discussed advanced voting locations in July.
“I’m not sure Sunday voting is necessary,” board member Mike Kaplan said at the time. “I don’t think turnout warrants it.”
The board also approved moving the East Macon 2 precinct from St. Matthew Baptist Church to the Boys & Girls Club at the King-Danforth Elementary School at 1301 Shurling Drive. The precinct’s 4,000 voters are supposed to be notified of the change.
Watson said her staff is working through very challenging times with the plethora of new rules.
She’s concerned that the state has not committed to offering training for political poll watchers, but only providing the same materials offered last year.
“To me that leaves the door wide open for the same interpretation of the law and have the same conflicts and no resolution that we had last year if everybody’s not on the same page,” Watson said.
Her office will work to make sure the policy is enforced across the board, she said.
Macon-Bibb’s Phoenix Award
The board also celebrated the office’s Region 6 Phoenix Award recently presented at the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials convention at Jekyll Island.
Board of Elections Chairman Darius Maynard said he wished the public could see everything that went on at the conference so they would have a better understanding of what the staff faces and fully appreciate how they were lauded by their colleagues across Georgia.
“You have a team working day-in and day-out to ensure our elections are top notch,” Maynard said on the meeting’s Zoom call. “That is a huge, huge honor. … My mask is hiding it but I’m smiling from ear to ear right now.”
The award shows the staff is “holding it together,” Watson said.
“Trust us,” she said. “We’re doing as much as we can to make sure that things run well here and that we’re transparent and that we’re doing things decently and in order and honestly. It’s very difficult with all these new laws and rules.”
Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at 478-301-2976 or email@example.com.