Cobb County Board of Elections Meeting 12/14/20

Meeting called to order at 4:00pm

All board members were present either in person or remotely. Several other county employees present in person, plus one public commenter present in person.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Alan _____ – 45 year resident of Cobb, sickened by the past elections, biggest excuse is COVID, nothing but the flu, no need for all the changes made, need to use paper ballots, upset by Dominion, illegitimate election, both parties need to verify votes, not use COVID as a excuse, huge mistrust, Banana Republic.  Also, upset that Booths Ward location closed for early voting.  What happened?

George Balbona was signed up to speak but was not in attendance.

Michael Opus (?) – voting machines and software skewed election, machines distributed to the highest bidder to flip votes, easily manipulated by foreigners, should not use machines to count the votes, only to register (sign in?) the voter.  Paper ballot should be put in secure lockbox to be hand counted, cannot afford change in country if elections robbed, needs to be better audit chain, if fraud continues it will tear country apart.

Joyce David – 71 years old, attorney, criminal and election law, concerned about COVID. She used the online app to check wait times at voting locations.  In West Cobb, Booths Ward and two other locations not available for this runoff.  Arts Center is open. No site in West Cobb.  Smyrna is open (maybe because two board members live there?).  No cuts in number of sites in Republican areas.  Cobb is 3rd largest and cut sites.  She commented on previous speaker’s comments about fraud.  [At this point, I started recording the meeting because it was difficult to keep up] “…the people at the polls and how things were handled. The fact that even though I voted sort of on a computer screen, there was a physical printout of my vote so that I could observe and make sure that the printout was correct in terms of my vote. I then fed that printout into a machine that scanned it. So those physical printouts are still available, the machine didn’t eat them up, they just scanned them. I did not observe anything that appeared to be fraud and I’m a realist.  I understand different people’s feelings based on information that they rely on for a source.  But in my own observation and based on my history as an election lawyer, I was very impressed with how the Georgia system worked. Thank you very much.”

State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart – (R-36) – “… I do have a couple of things I’d like to bring up here today. Not an understatement to say that my phone has blown up today with regards to my constituents in West Cobb who are very unhappy that a very popular polling early voting location that has been utilized for years, Booths Ward Recreation Center, has been essentially shut down. What is disturbing to me is the fact that this occurred literally just 2 business days before the start of early voting. Last Thursday, I believe, in response to, and I don’t know this to be true, but in response to perhaps the threat of lawsuits by perhaps some Democrats in our county that feel that certain demographics have been disenfranchised because of locations of early voting thus far. My concern here is that I am diametrically opposed to making any changes to polling locations two business days before the onset of early voting. We have a traffic jam right now at Black Mountain Park where Booths Ward is located.  Folks have been pulling into that location all morning and having to turn around and do u-turns.  Apparently, there is a very small sign located at the entrance saying that the polling location has been moved. I’m told, not very visible.  So we have a traffic jam.  Folks feel they’ve been blindsided by this. It is too late in the game, in my opinion, and I say this respectfully, it is too late in the game to be making a change to a popular polling location like Booths Ward. My constituents are very unhappy.  Many of them take time off, their lunch breaks, to vote. They make time to drive all the way over there only to find out the polling location’s not open.  Some of them are elderly.  I’ve heard from many of my senior citizens got up today, got dressed, drove to the polling location, they may not be active on the internet. To say that you posted this change on the internet two days ago, three days ago, that is just not good enough for my constituents.  So, I am very very concerned.  I understand that this change was made without a vote of the election board.  I’m going to appeal to you at this time to reconsider that. Far be it from me to dictate where polling locations are.  I want you to know that I am fully on board with an appropriate – that all locations of the county are represented and that voting locations are accessible to all of our voters in Cobb County regardless of party, race, anything.  But to come in at the 11th hour and shut down this polling location is simply unacceptable. It is my job to represent the interests of my constituents in West Cobb. I’m going to appeal to you to reopen that location. It did not seem to be an issue at the last election in November. I don’t know why suddenly at the last moment it’s an issue.  But I’m going to appeal to you to reconsider that, consider these things, consider my constituents when you vote on it today during your meeting. This is not simply a matter of adding another polling location. I have not objection to that at all.  But what you did was shut that one down to open another one. I do have an issue with that.” She then stopped to ask if the board had any feedback on what she had just talked about, stating she had one other issue to discuss.  She was informed that she was almost out of time. She then talked about an issue that Janine had discussed with the GOP regarding the number of poll watchers permitted. “I think we have a problem here.  I have been in contact with legislative counsel downtown.  These are the folks that wrote the code.  It reads ‘Each political party may have no more than two official poll workers for each location at which advance voting is conducted.’ Janine, you’ve been telling members of the party that they can only have two per day.  I think we’re missing the spirit of the law here. (Paraphrasing) We need to err on the side of caution here. By allowing only two poll watchers per day you are asking them to stand there for twelve hours.  I believe what is more appropriate here is to allow shifts.” [time called]

Rep. David Wilkerson – (D-38) – First, thank the board, both democrats and republicans on the board, for listening to us for the last year.  As you know, we started a conversation last December about the election process realizing that 2020 would be a big election. We had a lot of requests that we sent over the e-mail and those requests were _____ but they were also discussed. So I want to thank the board for doing your job and for the election workers. Last request we did put in was to increase from the general election (we had 11 early voting sites), went back down to 5, we asked to increase back to 11, realizing the workers were under ___ strain, counts, recounts, audits, being attacked by the press.  But at the same time we have voters trying to get to the polls. I do agree with the previous callers about West Cobb. Shorted as far as access to polling locations, I think that is a legitimate concern based on everything I’ve seen.  And that’s the conversation I had as soon as I saw the change. So with that, I would still ask the board… to consider a large location such as the Civic Center to allow – whole county wide – like Atlanta…The other piece that I have a concern about is the fact that there’s an audit.  I would like to see the board forcefully defend our staff and the elections office that if we are already having difficulty keeping people staffed…to ask for a signature audit is unconscionable. I would ask the board to strongly push back on a signature audit during the time that you are actually working on a current election that will have no impact. Political pressure from Washington or the state of NC or somewhere else should not impact the SOS’s job. And what he did today is going to cause problems for Cobb County.  We already made national news because of our reduction in early voting sites. Now that we’re the target of a signature audit gives the impression that something was done wrong when I’m quite confident that if the other side, SOS, sat in on the things we sat in on, would realize that the processes are in place. The delegation will support you on our side of the aisle, hopefully everyone else will.  I just ask that you push back on this signature audit, not because it’s not needed, but because it is going to ____ during an election that is in less than a month.

Jan Barton – signed up to speak, had audio technical issues, said she would email her testimony to the board.

Jeffrey (—hart?) – he was extremely difficult to hear, lots of static and breaking up.  He seemed to be itemizing suggestions for voting procedures to be used for January elections that avoided us of the Dominion system to scan and count the votes. He spoke about sealed ballot boxes and chain of custody. He asked if anyone had questions.  He was informed that this was not a Q&A session, only public comments. He thanked the board and asked that they adopt his suggestions.

Roxanne Smithers – Simply wanted to spread the concern about the initial and continued reductions in the locations for early voting. Reasons given for that reduction were concerned with not having enough poll workers. I’ve also looked on the board of election website where the county is no longer taking applications for poll workers indicating that the county had received enough applications, a large number of applications and did not need anymore.  Raised a question or concern that if applications were no longer being taken because of the volume received, why we were justifying a reduction in polling locations and blaming that on a lack of a sufficient number of poll workers. Want to make sure that all the people who applied to be poll workers, that their applications were actually considered. That they were given an opportunity to show that they were qualified and available. That that is not a pretext for reducing the number of polling places.  Seems odd that there were so many applications that they were no longer taking them and then we were justifying the reduction in polling places because we don’t have enough poll workers.  Wants the board to make sure that there has been an appropriate review of the applications that have come in and that any qualified applicants are reached out to and made available to man polling places and so that that is not an excuse used to reduce the number of polling places.

Tallie ______ – same comments as Rep. Ehrhart, changes at the last minute, folks not on social media don’t know about changes, unfair to the public. She’s heard it said that people aren’t concerned with what the board of elections does because they are chosen to represent us.  We appreciate that you represent us.  Thankless job. Having observed at Jim Miller Park, she understands that it is stressful under the best of circumstances, and that is why the appearance of honesty and integrity and being upfront and honest with the public is so key right now.  When things have the appearance of being done in secret it makes our antenna go up.  What’s going on? When a location is closed down, that makes our antenna go up. When we, as part of the Republican party, we submit a list of people and it’s just flat out refused and then I’m jumping in my car, running to the GOP.  Not everyone can take off for a 12-hour day to do it. I realize there are a lot of people doing a lot of volunteer hours, so we want an honest election and without it, we’re a communist country.  This has gotta stop. All of this last-minute change has gotta stop and not being transparent has gotta stop… Need to go back to paper ballots and better screening process for people who work at these locations.  I saw people over at Jim Miller Park that I don’t think were properly screened. A lot of us think that this is a process that is broken, and it is broken in Cobb County whether anyone wants to realize that or not. 

Lindsey ____ (in person) – handed out a paper to board members that appeared to be map of site locations.  Difficult to understand due to mask. Addressed the Boots Ward location closing.  Access in S. Cobb, staffing concerns, Epicenter Riverside (District 4) – adjacent to 6 Flags, move and add in Powder Springs, nothing south of I-20

Sharon ____ – signed up to speak, not in attendance.

END OF PUBLIC COMMENT

Approved minutes from 11/13 and 12/3 

PUBLIC HEARING

Emergency change of location for Willeo01. Bethany Presby no longer wants to be polling place due to COVID-19. Concerns about security and heightened tensions.  New location is 0.5 miles away.  No public comment. Change approved.

DIRECTOR OF ELECTIONS

Display was not working for the public to see “share screen”, so Janine was unable to share a map of the early voting locations with the public.  

She showed where the early voting locations were in the original plan (5 locations) – primarily in the northern sections of the county, plus Riverside very far south, not the best location, but a big facility. Not a lot of large venues in South Cobb.  Not very well distributed geographically, large area in the middle south that is not very well covered. Did receive a lot of complaints from the public and from various different groups.  After looking at it, agreed that the distribution was not being well suited. So Boots Ward moves down to the Ron Anderson Center – better distributed in county at large. Still received complaints about the number of sites.  She clarified that it is not a shortage of poll workers, but poll MANAGERS that are the problem.  Management Team is manager and two assistants required at each polling location. During November election, Cobb had always planned to have 11 locations, but even then they were stretched to staff 11 locations.  Planned since the beginning of the year but in order to staff all 11, there was only a single 3-person team at each place they had to stay in place and work the entire 14-15 hour day, 6 days a week for 3 weeks. Lost some of those people, remaining teams said they didn’t want to work that hard during the holidays. Cobb decided to reduce the locations so that the teams could double up and work shifts (1/2 day still 8 hours) – 5 locations for run off.  Heard outcry for more locations – so they are doing on the job training with “election day” poll managers who have not worked early voting, which is very different.  Training new people who are qualified for election day voting, but don’t know early voting procedures. Will use these folks to staff two more locations – the Art Place and one in Smyrna.  Filled a few holes.  Nothing in NE Cobb, left a hole in W Cobb.  Janine doesn’t see how they can do a W Cobb site.  If she figures it out, they could maybe do the last week of early voting.  Right now, no one is trained for that.

Pat Gartland commented that he has worked that area and Boots Ward is much denser.  Suggests moving sites around.  Sites he mentioned are too small.  But he says the ones chosen are not near the voters. Jessica Brooks was also speaking but couldn’t be understood. Long garbled discussion. Janine reminded the group that for early voting, they are only REQUIRED to open up the main office during regular business hours. Anything else that we do is at our discretion.  She doesn’t feel like there is any way she can staff the Boots Ward location.  Janine said that Cobb County has always gotten good results from staffing the management teams with regular “seasonal” employees who are well trained.  Other counties don’t necessarily do that.  But lost a lot of long-time staff and institutional knowledge due to COVID.  More discussion about locations in South Cobb.  Pat Gartland keeps pushing Boots Ward.  Janine says there is still time to apply for absentee ballot.

Phil Daniell finally spoke up and reiterated that the staff was stretched trying to cover 11 locations in November.  Not enough trained staff to cover that many early voting sites for the runoff.  He said he understood that people were upset about Boots Ward not being opened, but if they moved another location to Boots Ward, somebody else would be upset.  If you moved from Smyrna, then somebody would be upset there.  He doesn’t think that there is any good solutions to move anything else around or back at this time.

Janine confirmed with Phil that board members were assigned to locations for election night on January 5th. All agreeable.

Reschedule runoff certification meeting to January 14th, at 12:00 pm, rather than January 11th.  Allows more time to process absentee ballots. Motion made and approved.

Motion to approve 2021 Calendar, usual 2nd Monday of month at 4pm.  

FURTHER BUSINESS INCLUDED: 

Two challenges – re voter right to vote or registration.  There was another man present, sitting at the conference table with a computer, maybe an attorney.  Statute was read by another election employee.  

First challenge made by Jason Stafford, who challenges 61 voters stating that they were ineligible to vote where they did due to the fact that they gave a university housing address as their fixed residence address.  The law was read again and interpreted as there being nothing illegal about it.  After some discussion, this challenge was denied 5-0.

Second challenge made by Jason Stafford, who challenges 2 voters who are electors who registered to vote by sending in a post card that they were temporarily out of the country.  They registered to vote on 9/20/20 and gave their address as 4983 ____ Place, Acworth, GA.  Mr. Stafford has evidence from the owner of that property that they were not at that address and had not occupied that address for 20 years. Law read again. It is possible that these two have voted improperly in Cobb County, but Mr. Stafford’s allegations are hearsay.  Evidence is secondhand knowledge.  Need to have a hearing. Some garbled discussion. The voters have already submitted their ballots.  Motion to allow challenge.  Phil asked when hearing had to be held and evidence given.  Prior to certification.  Voters need to give explanation, could be done virtually. Janine can set up a virtual meeting with 3-day notice to voters.  Approved 5-0.

Jessica asked another question.

Janine talks about the SOS signature audit of the November envelopes (application and ballot).  Will gather documents, Complaint and sworn affidavit filed in Fulton, one of Cobb’s employees at the Parks Department swore in affidavit that signatures were not being checked.  Part of her statement (and she was one of the individuals checking signatures) was that she put some ballots in a bin for the supervisor to check and the supervisor okayed them.  She said that we weren’t doing a good job checking them.  Cobb submitted a response statement. But all of this was in relation to the primary. So unsure why the audit was for the November election.  Cobb will comply, of course, because order is from judge. Understanding is that documents will be removed from Cobb County location and taken to SOS location at World Congress Center.  Janine said that may be true, but the resources are in the Cobb offices and the files that they would need to compare the signature to are in the Cobb computer system. She still doesn’t know how that’s going to be done remotely and by someone who doesn’t know how to do it.  This is all new, just learned of this. GBI investigators and SOS investigators.  There is nothing on the envelopes that are private, but the applications do contain birthdates.

A request was made for better signage at Boots Ward informing people that it was closed.  Janine would ask DOT.

Next meeting January 5, 2021 at 7pm.

Meeting adjourned at 5:30pm.


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