As Tuesday’s city elections near, Hall County is still without an elections director.
The county hasn’t replaced Charlotte Sosebee, the elections director who resigned her position almost one year ago. As a review of the structure of the office continues into its 12th month, Hall County isn’t likely to reappoint an elections director.
When: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Cities in Hall County with contested races include Gainesville, Clermont, Lula, Flowery Branch, Oakwood and Braselton
More info: Find stories on these races and information about where to vote at gainesvilletimes.com/election2017
Instead, two people are running the office responsible for managing all elections in Hall County: Registrations Coordinator Terenda Sargent and Elections Coordinator Paige Nix. They’re working under Bill Moats, the county’s human resources director who has been overseeing the office while it’s without a director.
Sargent has worked in the office for years, since before the county was given control of elections from the judicial system. Nix was hired about six months ago after working as an area manager for the elections department since 2015 covering South Hall.
Starting out as an elections clerk, she’s worked in county elections since 2006 but has been interested in elections since kindergarten, when she volunteered to hand out “I Voted” stickers at her polling place in Indiana.
While working seasonally as an area manager during elections, Nix managed eight precincts and dozens of poll workers, but she now works full-time managing every precinct in the county.
This year, that means managing five precincts. But busy election years — 2016, for example — draw many more voters and require much more effort from the elections office.
“It was crazy,” Nix said of the 2016 election. “Lots of voters, though we didn’t have any issues with equipment or poll workers — just a lot of people.”
At the county government center on Browns Bridge Road, the line to vote was so long that it stretched from the basement of the complex to the second-floor chambers of the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
With only municipal elections in Clermont, Flowery Branch, Gainesville, Lula and Oakwood this year, there’s bound to be smaller crowds and less excitement on Election Day without Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the ballot.
So far, 311 people have voted early across all of the municipal elections, according to county records. In 2016, 2,878 people voted early. Another 548 voted by mail last November, compared to 15 absentee votes this year.
That also means fewer poll workers are needed. The county had 350 poll workers in 2016, but will only have 35 poll workers this year in five precincts.
The lighter load offers the county a chance to test the coordinator model during a live election.
The county builds ballots for municipalities, provides machines and hires poll workers to cover the election, Nix said. During early and absentee voting, the county holds daily counts of ballots and handles any issues municipalities might have. Municipalities reimburse the county for its work.
Along with a lighter load, there’s another Election Day complication poll workers won’t have on their plate: bilingual ballots. The Hall County Board of Elections, while it was down one Republican member, voted earlier this year to implement bilingual ballots in the county.
However, the ballots weren’t funded in the county’s fiscal year 2018 budget, one of the ways the county sought to cut costs amid a tax increase.
“We’ve looked at it every which way, and you’re talking signs, duplicate ballots, Spanish-speaking staff,” Moats said. “For a large election like we had in 2016, it was north of $150,000.”
So with a straightforward, small election around the corner, the county is aiming to found out whether it actually needs an elections director. County administration has been pleased with the two-coordinator model so far, according to Moats. Nix said it’s been going well in the lead-up to Tuesday.
“I think this has worked very smoothly, so I think we’re going to continue on this path,” said Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley.