Update: The Hall County Board of Elections met Friday, Dec. 6, to reconsider the E-SPLOST and bond referendum requests from Hall County and Gainesville City Schools to hold those elections in March 2020.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield told The Times in an email that he didn’t believe there was any legal precedent allowing the election board to block the request.
“We will work through the issue, and we have every intention of allowing the voters of Hall County to decide both issues in March, 2020,” Schofield wrote.
Some members of the Hall County Board of Elections want Hall County and Gainesville’s E-SPLOST and bond referendums, scheduled for March 24, 2020, moved so the ballot items can draw a larger, more diverse portion of the electorate.
E-SPLOST is a 1% sales tax up for renewal every five years that the local school systems can use for capital projects. Voters will also be able to decide whether to issue bonds for their local school system.
The Gainesville and Hall school boards had requested that the E-SPLOST and bond referendums coincide with the 2020 presidential preference primary, which is set for March 24 and would include three weeks of early voting. But some elections board members said at Tuesday’s meeting that placing the referendums on the ballot with the presidential primary would have an effect on which voters would show up.
“It is not being done and conducted fairly for the entire electorate. In the presidential preference primary, there’s only going to be one person on the ballot on the Republican side,” board member Craig Lutz said. “So, a large number of Republicans aren’t going to vote. On the Democratic side, there’s going to be a whole bunch of people on the ballot, and typically in presidential preference primaries, we have a very large turnout for contested elections because there is a lot of excitement behind the vote. … Because of it being unfair on this particular date, I plan to vote against it.”
The board has two Republican members, Lutz and Ken Cochran, and two Democratic members, Gala Sheats and David Kennedy. Chairman Tom Smiley does not officially represent either party. Lutz and Cochran voted against the E-SPLOST and bond referendum request on Tuesday, while Sheats and Kennedy voted in favor. Smiley acted as a tie-breaker and voted against the request.
Smiley said he would write a letter to local school officials about the board members’ concerns.
“The flavor of the motion was not a disagreement with the actual E-SPLOST and bond. The flavor was with the lack of as much citizen participation as could be possible,” Smiley said.
Some board members also said they were disappointed that the request was sent to them on short notice. It was not on the agenda that was posted online before the meeting. Elections Director Lori Wurtz said she received the request late Monday.
May 19, the statewide primary date, was suggested as an alternative date.
“We’ll have Democrats, Republicans, everybody coming out to vote,” Cochran said.
Wurtz contacted the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office legal department about whether the board had the authority to reject the school boards’ requests. She had not heard back as of Tuesday evening.