New DeKalb County elections director appointed

Keisha Smith was chosen as the next executive director of the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections office. SPECIAL PHOTO

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Keisha Smith was chosen as the next executive director of the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections office. SPECIAL PHOTO

DeKalb County elections will soon have a new executive director.

The local elections board voted unanimously Thursday to hire Keisha Smith — who currently leads the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority — to the prominent position. She is expected to start work on Feb. 14.

“[Smith’s] dynamic vision for the department, her clear approach to leadership and extensive background in navigating high-profile professional environments, coupled with her enthusiasm for this position, gave us the collective confidence that she was the candidate best suited to lead DeKalb into a bright future,” elections board chair Dele Lowman Smith, who is not related to the new hire, said in a news release.

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The elections board began its search for a new director in October, about two weeks after the resignation of former department head Erica Hamilton had been finalized. Hamilton, who was heavily criticized by local leaders during the 2020 election season, had been on an “extended leave of absence” since the previous month.

Twyla Hart, the county’s voter registration supervisor, filled Hamilton’s role on a temporary basis but will return to her normal duties upon Smith’s arrival.

During the search process — which involved a series of candidate interviews held in private board meetings, as allowed by the Georgia Open Meetings Act — Lowman Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that experience in elections was not a prerequisite for the department’s next leader.

The board, Lowman Smith said, was more interested in someone with executive-type experience who was equipped to manage an intricate operation that functions largely independently from the rest of the county government. A dynamic leader would be able to catch up to speed on elections laws and procedures, Lowman Smith said, and a deputy director will also be brought in to manage more day-to-day operations.

Smith has a Master’s degree in public administration and her current job in Virginia, which she’s held since 2015, involves leading a statewide agency charged with maintaining a robust pipeline of health care workers. A press release said Smith has “nearly two decades of progressive leadership roles in both the public and private sectors.”

“I’m honored to come to DeKalb to work alongside the [elections board] and other key stakeholders in preparation for the 2022 election cycle,” Smith said in the release. “With a major election on the horizon in Georgia, it will be critical to ensure operational efficiency, effectiveness and excellence within the [elections department].”

Smith said one of her first initiatives will be holding a series of public listening sessions with voters.