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How election board members are appointed could change
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A voter makes his way into the Lakewood Baptist Church Gainesville V voting precinct Tuesday, July 24, 2018 to cast a ballot in the primary runoff election.

The Hall County Elections Board, a bipartisan group of appointed community members, will be considering some changes to the board’s bylaws at its May 7 meeting.

Changes up for a vote include allowing more time for public comment on future bylaw changes and basing party appointments on presidential rather than state elections.

The five-member board currently has two members appointed by the Hall County Republican Party, two appointed by the Hall County Democratic Party and a chairman, the Rev. Tom Smiley, appointed by the Hall County Board of Commissioners rather than a political party.

David Kennedy and Gala Sheats currently represent the Democrats, while Vice Chair Ken Cochran and Craig Lutz represent the Republicans.

But the members do not necessarily have to be Republicans and Democrats. Current bylaws state that members should be appointed by the two parties that got the most votes in the last election for all members of the Georgia General Assembly. The proposed changes would base members’ parties on which parties’ candidates for president got the most votes in the last election.

Tom Smiley
The Rev. Tom Smiley

“If there were to be a presidential candidate that received more votes than a Republican or Democrat candidate, then according to these bylaws we would seat two members from that party,” Smiley said at the board’s April 9 meeting when potential changes were being discussed.

Also, while the current bylaws state that any vacancy on the board should be filled within 60 days, a proposed change would allow the Hall County Board of Commissioners to fill a seat that has been empty for more than 60 days. The appointee would fill the remainder of the unexpired term for their seat.

Currently, the rules state that public comment will be taken at the beginning and end of elections board meetings. Proposed changes require time to be set aside, with two public comment periods, one right after the agenda is approved and another after the business for the day’s meeting. The change more clearly defines the purpose of each public comment time, Elections Director Lori Wurtz said.

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Hall County’s new election superintendent, Lori Wurtz, came from Jackson County where she was the Supervisor of Elections. - photo by Scott Rogers

The public would be given more time to comment on future bylaws changes, if board members approve a proposed change. Now, the public has five days before a vote to comment on changes, but the minimum could be changed to 30 days.

“Five days isn’t enough for the public to understand or hear about it,” Smiley said.

Board member David Kennedy agreed the time was too short, noting that the county had the ability to allow for more time than the state minimum.

Another proposed change is an update to reflect current practice. The bylaws, last approved in 2016, call for the chairperson of the board to be the elections director. The previous elections director, Charlotte Sosebee, had led the board, but Smiley became the first appointed citizen chair in 2017.

Wurtz joined Hall County from Jackson County in 2018. The position had been empty since Sosebee’s departure in November 2016, and during the time of vacancy, the county restructured the elections office.

The board will vote to update the bylaws to clarify the elections director’s role. The elections director, who reports to the county administrator and the board, oversees day-to-day operations of the elections office. The elections director supports the board but is not a member and assists in registering voters and maintaining records.

Elections board meeting

When: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 7

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville