Tuesday, March 2, 2021

DeKalb County officials monitor election bills in Georgia General Assembly

DeKalb County election officials are monitoring moves in the Georgia General Assembly to impose new requirements on voters, even though the state's top elections official has said there was no "systemic fraud" in the November 2020 election.

The Georgia House voted on party lines on Monday in favor of a bill (HB 531) that would make more than two dozen changes to election laws and impose new identification requirements on absentee voters.

"That's probably going to change everything we do. We just got voters to learn about how things happen and now everything's going to change," DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Director Erica Hamilton told county commissioners during a committee meeting on Tuesday.

The state measure, sponsored by State Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), who chairs the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, would limit the time period when voters can request an absentee ballot and reduce weekend hours for early voting.

"We're already anticipating what we'll need to do if this legislation passes as is. We'll need additional resources," Hamilton said. "We'll need to beef up our full-time staff so that we can always have a very knowledgeable base in the office and not have to worry about the temporary staff putting most of the weight."

Hamilton expressed concern about low voter turnout for current elections. She said voter turnout was only three percent in the Feb. 9 House District 90 election and advance voting has been low for the March 9 runoff. "Out of 20,000, only 240 have cast a ballot," she said.

Out of 5,000 eligible voters, only four have cast a ballot in Clarkston's March 16 special election to fill an unexpired term on the City Council, Hamilton said. (Clarkston's web site says the city has 6,281 registered voters.)

Commissioner Ted Terry said Tuesday he has been asked by the nonpartisan, non-profit National Vote At Home Institute to observe an election next Tuesday in Orange County, Calif., which has shifted to voting by mail. About 80 percent of voters in Orange County, the fifth-largest county in the nation, mailed in their ballots last year.

"I will keep my colleagues posted with any developments and provide a post-observation report with the purpose of better informing the DeKalb elections work group," said Terry, who chairs the Board of Commissioners' County Operations (OPS) Committee.

"The hurdles and outright barriers being constructed with Jim Crow-era precision are, in essence, whiting out the lines of conduct for a free and fair democratic process and our democratic republic," he said.

"The state is going to cost DeKalb County taxpayers millions and extra bureaucratic layers for the sole purpose of making it harder to vote -- not because of potential fraud ... but because the state knows that when more people express their free will and vote, they tend to lose," Terry said.

The Capitol Beat News Service reports the measure approved by the Georgia House on Monday would require absentee-ballot drop boxes to be located inside polling places or local elections offices. The bill was approved by a vote of 97-72. It will now be considered by the state Senate.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that the Georgia Senate Ethics Committee has approved a separate bill that would limit absentee balloting to people who are over 65, are disabled or will be away from their precinct on the day of an election.

"I hope they will reverse course," Terry said. "We will not relent in our path to ensure voting rights and protections are afforded to all legal voting registered citizens." 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in November there were no irregularities that would have affected the results of the November election. "We've never found systemic fraud -- not enough to overturn the election," he said on ABC-TV's "This Week."

Commissioner Cochran-Johnson plans March 11 Town Hall meeting

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson will host a virtual Town Hall meeting on Thursday, March 11, at 6 p.m. to provide progress reports on existing and planned initiatives.

Heads of DeKalb County government departments will make presentations at the District 7 First Quarter Town Hall Zoom meeting. There will also be an update on Cochran-Johnson's partnership with PNC Bank and Operation HOPE to provide DeKalb County residents with financial dignity training, home ownership assistance, and resources for small business development and expansion.

"Economic development, home ownership and the fight against blight have seen significant advances, but COVID-19 has impacted service delivery in certain areas. I am eager to share our progress, departmental updates and future projects with District 7 residents," Cochran-Johnson says in a news release.

While Cochran-Johnson's District 7 includes the eastern half of DeKalb County, she says all county residents are welcome to register for the Town hall at http://bit.ly/3qOA8ID .