Concerns about the potential for violations and lack of oversight regarding the Hall County elections office have prompted local officials to push for a bill in the Georgia General Assembly to create a new board to supervise elections and voter registration.
“There needs to be some accountability,” South Hall Commissioner Craig Lutz said.
The proposed Board of Elections and Registrations of Hall County would remove supervision of the chief registrar from the Hall County Superior Court and put it into the hands of the county administrator.
“Basically, it puts it under the county government,” said commission Chairman Richard Mecum. “You get to have better oversight of the operation.”
Moreover, an advisory board now in place would be abolished.
According to language in the proposed bill, “The board shall have the powers and duties of the former superintendent of elections of Hall County relative to the conduct of primaries and elections, and shall have the powers and duties of the Board of Registrars of Hall County relating to the registration of voters and absentee balloting process.”
Charlotte Sosebee, director of elections for Hall County and the chief registrar, said she supported the proposed change, which other counties have also undertaken.
Sosebee currently reports to Andrew Fuller, chief judge of the Hall County Superior Court. But Reggie Forrester, court administrator for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, said Fuller was supportive of the change that would effectively relinquish his control of the elections office.
County officials agreed that removing oversight from the judicial branch would help consolidate resources and provide greater supervision of the elections process.
The bill to create the board was passed in the state House March 11, while the Senate read and referred it the next day. Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he expects the bill to pass before the last day of the session Thursday.
If approved, the board would assume its duties Jan. 1, 2015, and would consist of two Republicans and two Democrats, with the chief registrar serving as the chairman. Each board member would serve a four-year term.
Local political parties would be responsible for appointing representative board members.
The board would also be responsible for the selection and training of poll workers.
“It’s very popular throughout the state,” Sosebee said of the model. “We’re not the only county addressing our board.”
Other counties, such as Fulton, Gwinnett and Dawson, have previously established a similar board.
Though there has been talk of creating the new board for some time, the reason it has now come before the General Assembly may be explained by recent violations of election laws.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office reported 14 violations by Hall County in the 2012 Republican primary, including one involving Lutz’s wife, Shanon. The violations included casting multiple ballots and voting for candidates out of district.
The Georgia State Election Board did not forward the complaints to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Lutz said he had other issues with the elections office, including not being notified when financial disclosure reports were due.
“I wasn’t pleased coming into office,” he said.
Sosebee said she did not feel recent history was the reason for the proposed creation of the new board, and asserted any future alleged violations would be appropriately handled.
“If there is any violation, we would still have to go through the channels of the state election board,” she said.
Mecum, perhaps trying to diffuse any tension that has risen between the commission and the elections office, said it was important for the county to provide Sosebee the necessary staff and resources to handle elections.
“There are a lot of things we can do to support the voter registrar,” he said. “She’s kind of like an island unto herself. Some of those things can be avoided in the future.”