DeKalb elections director on ‘extended leave of absence’

November 13, 2020 Stonecrest: DeKalb County Director of Elections, Erica Hamilton along with DeKalb County officials were in the process of setting up operations at the former Sam’s Club in Stonecrest Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, where it plans to start its part of the recount at 7 a.m. Saturday. Officials said the facility which was used as an early voting site for the election provides more space and allows for better social distancing than would be possible at the county’s elections office off Memorial Drive. Joe Biden led Donald Trump by 14,000 votes as of Friday morning. The cost of Georgia recount six-day recount isn’t known, but initial estimates from DeKalb County indicate it might be pricey. DeKalb officials said Friday the recount will cost about $180,000, including $147,000 in pay, $20,000 for food and beverages, and $12,000 for personal protective equipment and other coronavirus-related precautions. The numbers are preliminary and may change, according to DeKalb. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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November 13, 2020 Stonecrest: DeKalb County Director of Elections, Erica Hamilton along with DeKalb County officials were in the process of setting up operations at the former Sam’s Club in Stonecrest Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, where it plans to start its part of the recount at 7 a.m. Saturday. Officials said the facility which was used as an early voting site for the election provides more space and allows for better social distancing than would be possible at the county’s elections office off Memorial Drive. Joe Biden led Donald Trump by 14,000 votes as of Friday morning. The cost of Georgia recount six-day recount isn’t known, but initial estimates from DeKalb County indicate it might be pricey. DeKalb officials said Friday the recount will cost about $180,000, including $147,000 in pay, $20,000 for food and beverages, and $12,000 for personal protective equipment and other coronavirus-related precautions. The numbers are preliminary and may change, according to DeKalb. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

DeKalb County elections director Erica Hamilton has been placed on an extended leave of absence, according to a joint statement issued by elections board leaders.

The statement from Dele Lowman Smith and Nancy Jester, the DeKalb elections board’s chair and vice chair, respectively, was provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Wednesday.

No explanation was provided for Hamilton’s leave, which was effective Thursday. Hamilton, who first took over as DeKalb’s elections director in the fall of 2017, has been the frequent target of criticism from board members, county commissioners and other local officials.

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During last year’s never-ending election cycle, those leaders frequently questioned Hamilton and then-elections board chair Sam Tillman about their sense of urgency in adopting changes and their willingness to accept assistance and new ideas.

An outside consultants’ report published last year also found that Hamilton was too involved in the department’s day-to-day operations to effectively manage “policy and executive functions.” And DeKalb Democrats chairman John Jackson called for Hamilton and Tillman to resign just a few weeks before last November’s election, saying “they just refuse to do their job.”

In an interview earlier this summer, Lowman Smith — a second-term board member who replaced Tillman as chair in July — did not directly address a question about Hamilton’s future with the county.

“We’re working together now to get the department where we as a board have articulated, and the community has articulated, that we want it to be,” Lowman Smith told the AJC at the time.

The five-member elections board, which has the authority to hire and fire the county’s elections director, held its regular monthly meeting Thursday evening. Hamilton’s leave of absence was not discussed during the nearly three-hour affair.

ExploreDeKalb announces early voting schedule, locations

Twyla Hart, previously the county’s voter registration supervisor, served in Hamilton’s role during the meeting — and will serve as acting director moving forward.

Hart has been with the DeKalb elections department for nearly two decades and “will ensure continuity for DeKalb County voters, partners and stakeholders,” according to the statement from Lowman Smith and Jester.

“Over the next several weeks,” they wrote, “we will step up our collaborative efforts to ensure every voter knows how, when, and where to vote as we prepare for a seamless election on Nov. 2.”

In DeKalb, November’s elections include a slew of municipal races and a countywide vote on renewing the education sales tax that funds projects for local schools.

The move to sideline Hamilton comes at a crucial time, as counties across the state implement changes related to Georgia’s new elections law. Leaders in heavily Democratic counties like DeKalb are particularly on edge thanks to part of the law that allows the State Election Board to replace local election boards after conducting performance reviews.

While there would be even more hurdles in DeKalb, which has no Republican county commissioners or state legislators to request a review, GOP officials have already initiated that lengthy process in neighboring Fulton County.

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