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New elections board member reacts to bilingual ballot vote

2-1 vote down party lines made while board was short 1 Republican

POSTED: April 6, 2017 12:30 a.m.

The decision to approve bilingual ballots in Hall County is “fiscally irresponsible” and not “well thought out,” a former Hall County commissioner who will soon be joining the Board of Elections and Voter Registration said Wednesday.

Craig Lutz has yet to be sworn in as a member of the election board, but that didn’t stop him from speaking out on the board’s 2-1 decision Tuesday in favor of making bilingual ballots available for Latino voters.

The Times reached out by phone to Lutz after finding out he’d been appointed to the election board by the executive committee of the Hall County Republican Party at its meeting Tuesday night.

Lutz said he thought the board’s action was “fiscally irresponsible,” when asked how he would have voted.

“It comes with a lot of fiscal issues,” Lutz added. “I don’t think that the process was well thought out. I think there’s other ways of making sure we get fair ballot access to all the citizens of Hall County without going through a process that hurt the taxpayers.”

Lutz questioned whether or not the election board could even have the authority to make the change toward having bilingual ballots without approval from the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

“I don’t know that yet,” Lutz said. “I do know this: the board of commissioners is the sole budgeting authority for all county government in Hall County, and this obviously is a county government function.

Lutz said he thinks the election board action would impact the county budget, and the board of commissioners controls the budget.

“So, if the board of commissioners chooses through a budget process to stop this, then I think it’s wholly possible,” Lutz said.

A spokesperson for county government said officials are looking into whether the election board’s action needs approval from county commissioners.

“Staff is still evaluating what the impact of (Tuesday’s) vote will be and whether or not any additional steps need to be taken,” said Katie Crumley, a county spokeswoman.

Lutz expects to be sworn into office and be ready to attend the next election board meeting May 2. The board would then have two members appointed by the GOP and two members appointed by the Hall County Democratic Party.

Crumley said county officials are in the process of restructuring the leadership of the Elections Department after the former elections director, Charlotte Sosebee, left the position in November. The person in that role is the fifth member of the elections board. In the interim, it is not clear who would cast a tie-breaking vote. Crumley said the county is in the process of putting together a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners to address the issue.

Hall County Human Resources Director Bill Moats is overseeing the Elections Department during the restructuring, Crumley said.

The two Democrats on the election board — Kim Copeland and Gala Sheats — approved the bilingual ballots. Republican member Ken Cochran voted against the measure.

Copeland said after Tuesday’s vote that the initiative would save money for taxpayers by avoiding potential lawsuits. He said after Gwinnett County went to bilingual ballots after a U.S. Census ruling late last year, it would eventually apply to Hall County as well.

The U.S. Census ruling applied to Gwinnett stems from a section of the Voting Rights Act that mandates providing bilingual ballots in areas where 5 percent of the population, or 10,000 citizens of voting age in a particular jurisdiction, are members of a single-language minority where English fluency is not common.

“Hopefully, we can save the taxpayers money from unnecessary lawsuits, and allowing  citizens greater access to voting is always a good thing,” Copeland added.

Lutz said he thought the Democrats on the election board “took advantage” of having three members at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Now we’re going to be closer to getting a full board,” Lutz said. “Hopefully, we can deal with making sure that everybody has fair ballot access in a reasonable and responsible way going forward,” he said.


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