DeKalb County gets $4.8M grant to help with elections

DeKalb County residents wait outside Ray Hope Christian Church in Decatur to cast their votes in the Georgia primary after 7 p.m. Tuesday, the original poll closing time. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
DeKalb County residents wait outside Ray Hope Christian Church in Decatur to cast their votes in the Georgia primary after 7 p.m. Tuesday, the original poll closing time. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

DeKalb County will receive a $4.8 million grant aimed at helping it conduct smoother elections in November and beyond, officials said Tuesday.

The grant will come from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a national nonprofit that works to help elections offices modernize their operations. In a press release, DeKalb officials said the money will allow the county’s Board of Registration and Elections to do things like hire more personnel; purchase more equipment for voting and sorting absentee ballots; operate additional voting locations; and purchase personal protective equipment for poll workers and voters.

Explore'Discord at the highest level': Elections board, staff clash in DeKalb

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said the money will also pay dividends beyond the closely watched Nov. 3 election. The county will conduct “a comprehensive review of the elections system," a press release said.

“We need to review this process from top to bottom and build a process that all the citizens of DeKalb County can be proud of," Thurmond said during a Tuesday morning county commission meeting.

DeKalb’s elections office has been heavily criticized since a June primary that was filled with technical problems, long lines and absentee ballots that took more than a week to count. There has been tension between elections staff, the elections board and the Board of Commissioners, which provides funding for elections but otherwise has no direct oversight.

One commissioner recently described the situation as “discord at the highest level.”

Last week, a consultant brought in to help the elections office communicate with voters and the media nearly stepped down, saying he wasn’t getting the cooperation he needed to do his job. Just a few days earlier, the National Vote at Home Institute — which was brought in to help optimize DeKalb’s absentee ballot process — had to be coaxed back into the fold after disengaging for similar reasons. The ACLU of Georgia recently said volunteer poll workers it had recruited to help bolster DeKalb’s Election Day manpower were turned away.

Elections board members have also accused elections staff of ignoring their directives and questioned the county’s readiness for November.

“This is a gamechanger for DeKalb,” said Commissioner Larry Johnson, who pushed the county to pursue the grant. “We have the opportunity to be innovative, add more poll workers, and add more voting locations throughout the county. We can be a model of service for the state and the country.”

The DeKalb County elections board has a meeting scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. It can be viewed via livestream here.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, no agenda for the meeting had been posted.

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