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Hall weighing changes to elections office
0419Elections3
The Hall County elections office on the bottom floor of the county's Browns Bridge Road headquarters, pictured on Tuesday, has gone five months without a director. County officials say they're evaluating the staffing of the office before hiring a new director to replace Charlotte Sosebee, who left in November 2016.

Now five months without an elections director, Hall County is using the break between elections to decide whether to restructure its elections office before hiring a replacement for Charlotte Sosebee.

After a “heavy election season” at the local, state and national levels last year — all of which have elections coordinated by the office’s director — the county is using the current lull to re-evaluate the office serving Hall County and most of its cities, said Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton.

While that’s ongoing, the search for a new elections director has been put on hold, according to Knighton, while county officials decide whether one of the positions in the office is changed or eliminated.

With only three city elections scheduled this year, 2017 elections are “not nearly as robust as last year,” Knighton said at the county’s Browns Bridge Road office on Monday. “So, given that and given the fact that we do want to review the structure of the department, we thought it would be best to make sure that we were methodical and taking our time in evaluating the department and then ultimately in hiring a director.”

The Hall County Elections Board voted 2-1 on April 4 to provide bilingual ballots in the county, taking the vote while the board had two Democratic members and one Republican and before the addition of Republican Craig Lutz to the board. Sosebee previously sat on the board as part of her role as elections director.

County officials have said it’s unclear whether the election board’s action needs approval from county commissioners.

Knighton said he expects a new director to be hired in the next several months. The county isn’t recruiting for now.

Being elections director for Hall County can be demanding. Between the offseason updating of voter rolls and election season, the director goes from managing a staff of fewer than 10 to 300 or more people, from Election Day poll workers to area managers and other staff.

“During election year, it’s your life,” Sosebee said in a phone interview on Monday. “... My daughter had a baby during the 2008 presidential election, and I was always with my fingers crossed because the baby was due in November.

“He was born November 17, and (his mother) helped out in that election.”

While the county coasts between elections, the elections office is getting by with five part-time employees and two full-time employees, one an elections coordinator and the other a registration coordinator. County Human Resources Director Bill Moats is the office’s acting director.

County officials have left the office’s third full-time position, the deputy chief registrar, unfilled while they decide whether to change the position or cut it.

The deputy chief registrar organizes “all activities” on the part of the county to “conduct fair and impartial elections for Hall County in compliance with all applicable laws,” according to the job description. The deputy chief also helps conduct elections, register voters and maintain records.

“We just want to see what other support, or is there other support, that may be needed for the department as opposed to this position which currently exists,” Knighton said.

He later noted that any changes to the department “will be intended to support the requirements and mandated responsibilities necessary” to best serve the county.

A new director and a restructured department would be only the latest changes to the office.

In November 2016, Sosebee left her position in Hall County to take a similar position with Athens-Clarke County after almost 10 years on the job.

In 2014, the Georgia General Assembly voted to hand control of the office to the county from the regional superior court.

In 2013, the rights of Southern states and counties to control elections were expanded when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled certain portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional.

The ruling allowed local changes to polling places, precinct boundaries and other aspects of elections without preclearance from the Department of Justice — provisions enacted in the 1960s to curb discrimination in the elections process but which critics said were out of date in the new century.

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