DeKalb elections officials working on plan to prevent future issues

The elections board plans to certify results from June 9’s elections on Thursday morning
Voters wait at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County on Tuesday. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Voters wait at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County on Tuesday. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The DeKalb County elections board plans to certify results Thursday morning, more than two weeks after June 9's problem-filled primary.

Leaders have also begun formulating a plan they hope will help them avoid the same issues during August’s runoff and November’s general election.

During a Tuesday afternoon briefing with county commissioners, elections board chairman Sam Tillman said the elections office would likely be requesting that its budget be inflated to around $6.5 million.

That’s an increase of about $1.3 million over the previously approved 2020 budget. But officials said it will give the elections office even more than that to work with — because the county also plans to offer up employees from other departments, allowing elections to forego hiring temporary workers.

The county employees given various elections duties will likely be those whose regular jobs are sidelined by the pandemic.

Additional funding would be spent on “personnel, equipment, postage, supplies, everything that we could think of,” Tillman said.

Officials are working as well on a plan to have a fleet of IT workers spread across the county, in quick striking distance of precincts that may have problems with new voting machines.

The elections office may also rethink where many voting precincts are hosted. Places that have long been voting locations may be ill-equipped to handle the demands of the state’s new system, whether due to constraints on space or power supply.

Training will be a focus too, Tillman said.

“I have advised [elections director Erica Hamilton] that we're gonna train, more than one time, twice as many people as we need,” Tillman said.

DeKalb’s election day started with widespread problems getting precincts up and running, an issue that elections Tillman has blamed on glitchy poll pads, which are used to help check voters in. That exacerbated the long lines that were already expected due to the state’s new voting system; social distancing requirements tied to the coronavirus pandemic; a shortage of experienced poll workers; and more than two dozen precincts that had to be moved at the last minute.

Many precincts were forced to stay open well past the normal 7 p.m. closing time.

The elections office also took days and days to complete the tedious process of counting the more than 100,000 absentee ballots submitted by DeKalb voters.

Officials were originally scheduled to certify election results last Friday — but that was delayed too, after a temporary worker in the elections office was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Results are now expected to be certified in an elections board meeting called for 9:30 a.m. Thursday. That meeting was originally called for Wednesday afternoon but rescheduled for reasons unclear.

During his Tuesday afternoon briefing, Tillman got plenty of pointed questions from county commissioners, who have no direct oversight over elections but allocate funding.

Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson wanted to know how county employees assigned to elections would be vetted, saying raw manpower isn’t a replacement for experience. She wanted to know why at least three poll managers told her they had no back-up paper ballots on election day (and claim Tillman pushed back on). She pushed for an “intensive review” of what went wrong.

“If you continue to do what you always have done, then most likely you will continue to get the same results,” Davis Johnson said. “We cannot continue what we have always done.”