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DeKalb Board of Elections Meeting 8/12/2021

Present: Chair Dele Lowman Smith, Vice Chair Nancy Jester, Board member Anthony Lewis, Board member Karli Swift, Board member Susan Motter, Director Erica Hamilton, DeKalb CIO John Matelski, Staff Attorney Terry Phillips, Staff 

Meeting Begins 4:32

Item 1 Agenda approved unanimously

Item 2 Minutes from July 8 meeting approved unanimously

Item 3 Public Comment: 

Liz Throop asks for specifics from the board about new polling locations so that they can be publicized and asks that obsolete information be removed from the website (absentee ballot application information). She recommends the department use social media and other advertising mediums to publicize information about elections.

William Freeman expresses concern about the possibility of the board holding ‘secret’ meetings with county commission about budget, expresses support for Ms. Hamilton remaining in her permission

Marci McCarthy expresses concern about potential bylaw changes, including the creation of a budget committee and provisions for the chair of the board to supervise department employees in the absence of the elections director, fears that a political appointee could take control of the department during an election. 

Catherine Bernard expresses concerns about the creation of a separate budget committee that could violate the open meetings act. 

Item 4 Commissioner Comment: No commissioners present

Item 5 No executive session. 

Item 6 Orientation for new board members with the director

Ms. Swift asks for information about orientation materials that new board members were supposed to receive and about meetings with the director.

Ms. Hamilton says members can now pick up materials from the office and they agree to arrange meetings later.

Item 7 Advance in-person voting times and locations 

Ms. Hamilton reads through a document that includes the following proposals: 

City of Atlanta: Bessie Branham Recreation Center

City of Brookhaven: Lynwood Recreation Center

Unincorporated DeKalb: Berean Christian Church, family life center

Unincorporated Dekalb: the office 

Recommended hours 8:00 am to 6:00 pm for dates October 12 to October 29 with the exception of Saturdays: October 16 and October 23 hours 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Ms. Hamilton says limitations on potential locations are partly due to lack of county owned buildings in unincorporated DeKalb and school being in session, limitations are not budgetary. Acknowledges there are fewer early voting locations than in 2019. 

Ms. Swift requests map of possible locations, expresses concern about low number of early voting locations 

Ms. Hamilton justifies 8-6 instead of 7-7 hours based on past turnout

Ms. Jester expresses concern that data is given to board members on the same day of meetings, asks for clarification about the process through which cities decide to have an early voting location

Ms. Hamilton clarifies that all cities in DeKalb besides Atlanta and Brookhaven declined to have an early voting location through a clerk

Ms. Jester asks for clarification on whether elected officials were consulted 

Ms. Hamilton does not know exactly who was consulted 

Ms. Jester recommends higher level communication with city officials, is concerned about equitable access for voters in all parts of the county because a county-wide question is on the ballot (E SPLOST), and says the county should have more early voting sites.

Ms. Motter wonders if cities explicitly and actively declined to have early voting locations, is concerned about lack of early voting at Tucker Library and in Northern DeKalb specifically. She also requests the written director’s report further prior to the meeting. 

Ms. Hamilton says cities were sent several reminders about agreeing to have an advance voting location 

Mr. Lewis is concerned about distribution of early voting locations, specifically north of the office. 

Ms. Hamilton says that Embry Hills and Northlake Library were only two possibilities for voting locations in northern unincorporated DeKalb, space and electrical outlet restrictions ruled them out. For voting locations within cities, the incorporated city pays for it.

Ms. Lowman agrees that more locations are probably needed. Asks about potential practice change of county opening more early voting locations within incorporated cities that cities would pay a percentage of. 

Ms. Swift reiterates questions around stated times and asks for a full list of county owned properties and a map marked with where precinct lines are. 

More discussion about restrictions on potential advance voting locations. 

Ms. Swift asks about potential churches in South Dekalb.

Ms. Hamilton mentions House of Hope. 

Ms. Jester asks about the Porter Sanford and Ellenwood Library. 

Ms. Hamilton says that Porter Sanford would need an inspection for fitness, says Ellenwood Library was not included because of past voting trends suggesting low turnout.

Ms. Jester emphasizes the importance of early voting locations because anyone in the county can use them, and asks for clarification of how sites are funded. 

Ms. Hamilton: If the city requests a voting location, the city pays for staffing. For a county-wide question, cities are charged for percentage of ???

Ms. Jester asks if ever in the past cities had chosen to not have an early voting location. 

Ms. Hamilton says in the past most cities wanted their own early voting location (Doraville-CHamblee, Tucker, Brookhaven, others) and that this year’s lack of interest is a change. 

Mr. Matelski says that Porter Sanford is currently being used as a county call center. 

Ms. Swift asks if other buildings could legally be used if enough public buildings are not available (code says public buildings used “if practicable”)

Ms. Vander Els says there is a preference for county-owned buildings, and says that for early voting locations the building must be constructed partially or wholly with government funds if it is not an election day voting location. SB202 change. 

Ms. Lowman Smith points out impediments that SB 202 causes in giving voters access – new restrictions on buildings that can be used drives inequity. She requests a list of historical advance voting location sites and asks that data relating to accessibility of locations (public transit, parking, handicap accessibility) be provided.

Motion to defer Item 7 (Advance In Person Times and Locations)  to the next meeting passes unanimously.

Item 8 Establishing a Budget Committee

Ms. Lowman Smith enumerates her past concerns about lack transparency and information around budget. In the past, there was never any discussion with the board about the budget. Intent of the budget committee is to drive transparency by giving board members besides the chair input in and information about the budget. Says there is no requirement for all budget discussions to be made public. The committee would not preclude any other members of the board from requesting and receiving information about the budget. 

Ms. Jester thinks that the entire board should vote to approve recommendation sent to the board of commissioners. Says that other departments routinely gave feedback to the board of commissioners when they felt they had been underfunded. Takes issue with construction of a committee because if it is a committee, meetings must be open and public. If a committee of two is constructed, one person would make a quorum, which presents legal problems. 

Ms. Lowman Smith asks for clarification from Mr. Phillips

Mr. Phillips confirms that committees are subject to the open meetings act and recommends further offline consultation.

Ms. Lowman Smith reiterates intent for transparency. She says that she had requested a separate meeting for this conversation. 

Mr. Lewis agrees that a more formal budgeting process is needed, agrees with concerns raised about construction of a committee. Proposes whole board involvement. 

Ms. Motter reiterates Ms. Lowman Smith’s concerns around past practices. Would like legwork to be done by committee instead of the whole board.  

Discussion around compliance with Open Meetings Act. 

Ms. Swift would like for the language to be clear that the whole board would vote on any recommendations from a potential budget committee. 

Ms. Hamilton says in the past the board chair was only involved in case of commissioners not meeting budget requests. 

Ms. Jester references a 2019 decision on the DeKalb Board of Education not complying with the Open Meetings Act. Ms. Jester encourages public discussion of everything. 

Ms. Lowman Smith recommends set opportunities for the entire board to weigh in on budget proposals, the chair becoming the designee of the board to give clarification to director, director brings back recommendation for full board approval before going to board of commissioners. 

Ms. Swift reiterates value of first and second reading of budget proposal, requests special called meeting during budget review time, and requests timely information on budget. 

Ms. Lowman Smith will formalize the proposal for vote at the next meeting. 

Motion to defer item 8 (Establishing a Budget Committee) to the next meeting passes unanimously.

Item 9 Discussion of Board Governance Procedures and Notice of Intent to Amend Bylaws

(meeting continues past 6:30 pm with Items 10 Communication Update, 11 Director’s Report, 12 Board Comments) 

Did you know that the public can attend Board of Registration and Elections meetings? 

These meetings are open to the public by Georgia law. Georgia Open Meetings Act.

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