DeKalb Commission seat will remain vacant for months

The east DeKalb County Commission seat won’t be filled for more than seven months because it would be a “logistical nightmare” to quickly organize a special election at the same time as the primary election.

The DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections voted unanimously Monday against calling a May 24 special election to fill the seat vacated by Commissioner Stan Watson, who resigned this month to run for tax commissioner. Voters will instead choose his replacement during the Nov. 8 general election. Watson represented about 350,000 people who live in District 7.

Board Chairman Samuel Tillman said polling places lack the staff, space and employees necessary for the earlier election date.

“It’s not just difficult — it would be almost impossible,” Tillman said. “It would be a logistical nightmare if we tried to do that.”

More than 500 additional election workers would have had to be hired and trained within weeks.

“We’re talking about hiring people off the street,” said DeKalb Elections Director Maxine Daniels, who recommended waiting until November.

In addition, voters would have had to fill out two ballots — one for the primary election and one for the special election — at in each of 100 precincts in District 7, according to state law covering special elections called with less than 90 days notice.

Tillman said he was concerned that voters wouldn’t realize they had to use two ballots.

A May 24 special election would have cost the county government up to $400,000 to hire poll workers and rent extra voting machines. Holding the election in November won’t come with any additional expense.

Without a District 7 representative, the DeKalb Commission will function with six members, setting up the possibility for deadlocks on key issues, including a decision this summer on government employee pay raises.

The DeKalb Commission previously stalemated on pivotal votes during the two years in which southeast DeKalb District 5 didn’t have full representation.

After Gov. Nathan Deal appointed then-Commissioner Lee May to become the county’s interim CEO in July 2013, District 5 didn’t regain its commissioner until May resigned that seat and voters elected Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson last summer.

Angela Patrick, who lives near Stone Mountain, told the elections board she wanted a replacement for Watson sooner.

“I’m hoping that we will be able to have a timely election for his replacement so that we don’t have to go through what we went through with the 5th District not having representation for a long, long time,” she said before the vote.

Watson represented a one of the county’s two super districts. His former constituents will still be represented by their smaller district commissioners: Nancy Jester in north DeKalb, Sharon Barnes Sutton in east-central DeKalb and Johnson in southeast DeKalb.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.