Meeting Called to order: 4:53 pm
Members Present: Karli Swift, Vasu Abhiraman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Motter, and Nancy Jester
Also Present: Keisha Smith, Executive Director, and Intern Sabi Rodriguez
1. Agenda approved unanimously. Chair said Legal Counsel recommended deferral of Agenda items 5C, 6A, and 6B.
2. Minutes of past meetings were approved unanimously.
3. Public Comments:
Judy Sophianopolo, now living at the Kingsbridge retirement center. Has been a voter for 7 decades. Voting should be made as easy as possible. She has been a volunteer poll watcher and poll worker. She said there should be Absentee ballots, and help for poll workers since fraud is rare.
4. Director’s report:
a) DeKalb Registrations are 573,414, but 84,575 are inactive. As of today, they have 22,098 registration applications to process. Since the number of active registrations determines the number of drop boxes, and they have dropped below 500,000, they will keep a close eye on the numbers and will post again about this next month.
5. There will be an upcoming health check on the voting equipment next week by the Secretary of State’s office. There will also be Logic and Accuracy testing starting at the end of this month for the March 12 election.
6. As to Redistricting, the staff is working to make the necessary changes, which will be done in time.
7. The qualifying guide for the 2024 election candidates is being worked on by staff for anyone planning to run. March 4-March 8 is the qualifying period for the May election.
8. Referring to the Budget document, page 6, the daily totals show expenses through December 2023. The total budget is 9.2 million allocated in 2022. The Director will make sure they can spend all of the funds allocated with expenditures already encumbered in 2023. She anticipates a balanced budget and is working on how to improve accuracy and move around categories. Salaries were the biggest shortfall, as 1.7 million was allocated. However, they added new positions in 2023 and incurred unanticipated overtime. The Director anticipates that in the future, they will be closer to the budgeted amount in terms of what they spend in each category. 9. Training for poll workers is underway, starting with Train the Trainers. Anyone interested in working as a poll worker should go to the website.
10. Questions regarding the Director’s report:
a) Susan Motter, commented on redistricting, as a point for the public: Susan attended the Gavrao(sp?) elections conference. She was concerned whether the staff is on target to implement redistricting. Susan said her information has already been updated on My Voter Page, well before the February 9 deadline for the combinations (i.e., the new districts) to be sent over to the state. The Director reported that they are working daily on it. She suggested that if you have any questions about your registration, to call their office.
The Director said, as the changes are entered they are updated, and staff have completed 99 percent of the redistricting changes. They have until February 9 and are continuing to double and triple-check the accuracy of the entered data. She added that the SOS website has a comprehensive elections calendar, but Susan noted that a short version was included with today’s materials from the Director. Other agencies are involved in actually getting new registration cards prepared before they can be mailed out.
b) Nancy said kudos to the Director and her staff about the budget. She noted that in a Presidential election year,the Voter Registration and Elections Office (VRE) has to request more in their budget. The VRE requested
$22.68 million, but the Commissioners(?) initially recommended less($20.1 million?), but no hearing date has been scheduled to discuss the VRE budget yet. The Director pointed out that Columns 2 & 3 of the requested budget (not the Recommended), show that contracted services and temporary services appear to have been reduced. Nancy said she was asked today about a date for the stakeholder meeting. The Director will send out an email to the Board to poll them regarding a date. Nancy also asked if the county has been the recipient of the grant money that was awarded. The Director said that it was a Finance question. Legal will try to get an answer within the next two weeks. Nancy also asked if we are members of the Center for Protect and Civic Life, which costs approx. $4,800. She asked for an answer within the next 2 weeks. The Director was not certain, but she said they are still receiving information and invitations and participating with other counties and jurisdictions across the state, and she knows that the VRE did not pay 4800 from their budget. The director said the association with the Center has been helpful regarding Best Practices, such as election night returns, and other issues. She said it is a “value add” for the VRE.
c) Anthony asked what happened during the warehouse health check. The Director said we will find out next week. Julietta (VRE staff) noted that the warehouse health check will occur on Wed, Thurs and Fri. It will involve Logic and Accuracy tasks plus more. The VRE will still have to go through its usual Logic and Accuracy process.
d) Chair Karli noted that the budget in 2020 was not accurate and they had to ask for more money during the elections process. The pending budget is much better.
11. The Director introduced Sabi Rodriguez, a National Urban Fellow and management fellow, who has been working since September 2023. Mr. Rodriguez discussed his assignment and the Enhancing Linguistic Inclusivity report that was prepared, which was included in today’s meeting materials. Starting with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) Sec. 203 (“the bilingual mandate”), the VRA requires that more than 5% of voting-age citizens, or 10,000 be part of a single language group, before mandating language assistance. Additional language assistance, Section 208, allows people with disabilities or literacy challenges to bring someone with them into the voting booth. Mr. Rodriguez said the report included information from community listening sessions, census data, and comparative analysis. He and his helpers looked at what other counties (Gwinnett and Hall) and other states were doing. Themes raised during listening sessions included a need to translate all voting materials, not just ballots. Also absentee voting concerns, i.e., multiple last names. Also, there is a high demand for poll workers in multiple languages. Spanish (8,000) and Amharic (2,000) were the most limited English proficiency speakers Spanish is 38% of the
total of non-English languages spoken. The report recommends that the Board prioritize primary languages and expand to secondary languages. Establish a multi-lingual working group within VRE, recruit bilingual poll workers, improve website accessibility, and include multilingual options. The Director noted that they have only gotten quotes for translation services for voter materials, including ballots, which would mean 274 different ballot styles. The VRE must proof the ballots, and have logic and accuracy testing for those different ballot styles. VRE does not have a quote for that. For each language, the estimates received are for limited materials only (such as ballots, absentee ballot applications, etc.) and are between $7,000-10,000 for each language. So that would come to $90,000 to 100,000 per election for all languages. This writer believes that it would not include Know Before You Go, advance voting locations or the voter guide.
a) Vasu said it would be nice to have a screen in the room so the public could better follow along. The Director said this has been requested in the budget to move to another room for meetings with a screen. He asked why do we care what percentage of all the non-English speakers, each language group is. Do we not just need to see the total number of speakers? The VRA threshold is not met, i.e., the largest language group, Spanish, has only 8,000 limited English Proficient speakers. See p. 20 of materials.
b) Karli asked when we say the top 6 languages, is this based on Limited English Proficiency, and not just total citizens? Also, she asked the Director to look into video assistance.
c) Anthony asked if there were Federal trigger locations. Only Gwinnett had more than 10,000.
d) Mr. Rodriguez said they conducted surveys (which are still ongoing) and listening sessions. And they also relied on Galeo’s survey of 500 people. Most people who showed up were from the Spanish-speaking community. DeKalb already has “language lines” in each precinct where voters can call someone speaking that language if they need help.
e) Susan noted that in 2020, DeKalb did language translation for the Korean community but the Korean community is not mentioned in this presentation. As for the Chinese community, there are over 50 dialects. The actionable recommendations cannot be made for all of them. Susan assumes that Chinese means Mandarin. She recommends that whatever we do, do it well, and not do too much. Work to build it out in the future to include more recommendations and language. Mr. Rodriguez said a limitation of the census data is that it does not distinguish what kind of Chinese dialect or French vs Patois. Korean does not meet the 1,500 threshold. The Director said that regarding Koreans, who have had materials translated previously, they will work with their attorneys to implement things equitably.
f) Nancy noted that no language group yet meets the Federal threshold, but Gwinnett does. There is a call line, at any precinct, where voter can call and request assistance in any language.
g) Vasu asked if the translation of materials is in the recommended budget. Yes, per the Director, we asked for $800,000.
12. Why request to defer discussing the Special called election? The Law Department is still working on it. The Presidential primary is in March and the Georgia primary is in May. They recommended deferral of 5C to the February 8 meeting because the Law Department said no one has yet said they will vacate their seats, even though some are expected. They explained that they cannot share legal advice on hypotheticals, which
include many moving parts, and thus continued research is needed. Expect to have a report to the BRE before the next meeting on February 8.
a) The Director said that Polling place changes were noticed in the Champion at the end of November and early December, so Susan asked for an update to the public who may have seen it. With new changes being considered, the Board moved to defer the agenda item to February 8.
b) As to the issue of giving limited signing authority on certain contracts, or for a certain amount, to the Executive Director, Legal counsel asked for time to look into the parameters. The Law Department will try to provide info to the BRE by February 8. The BRE moved to defer to February 8.
c) Board Comments
i. Nancy – thanks to the staff and the public and she appreciated the discussion about the budget.
ii. Susan – thanks to the staff and department and Mr. Rodriguez for the thorough report. Also thanks to their lawyers.
iii. Anthony – wished everyone a happy new year.
iv. Vasu – The presidential election will not need a runoff to determine the electors.
v. Counsel said that they are working to increase the number of attorneys on the Elections Team and to get additional help for Attorney Ms. Momo.
d) Adjournment at 6:41.
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