Gwinnett is looking for a new elections director

In this April 2018 file photo, Gwinnett elections director Lynn Ledford shows off a voting machine’s Spanish-language ballot. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

In this April 2018 file photo, Gwinnett elections director Lynn Ledford shows off a voting machine’s Spanish-language ballot. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Gwinnett County’s longtime elections director has been promoted to a position created just for her — and the search for someone to fill the high-profile position she’s vacating has quietly begun.

Lynn Ledford's promotion comes shortly after a high-profile MARTA referendum and November election season marred with accusations of voter suppression. But officials with the county and its Board of Registrations and Elections, which is vested with the power to hire and fire the elections supervisor, said the personnel changes are unrelated to any negative outside perceptions of Ledford's leadership.

Ledford has worked for Gwinnett County since 1987 and served as elections supervisor since 2002. In her new role as a division director, Ledford will serve in an advisory role and tackle larger elections issues like managing the implementation of new voting machines and other elections procedures mandated by recent state legislation.

“There are very few people in the state of Georgia who have the same level of elections experience and knowledge as Lynn Ledford, so her ability to provide knowledge transfer is highly beneficial to the county,” said Gwinnett spokesman Joe Sorenson.

“It’ll definitely be a big loss for the day-to-day runnings of the office,” said elections board Chairman John Mangano. “But at the same time, some of these special projects are things that we’ve needed to get done.”

Ledford has not officially started her new job, and a county spokesman said Friday he did not have information about her new salary. As elections director, Ledford earns $123,688 per year.

A job listing for her replacement, meanwhile, listed the position's starting salary at $72,758. It was posted online a little over two weeks ago.

Mangano said the five-member board was told of Ledford’s promotion at its March 22 meeting and the listing went public a few days later. It was posted on the county’s website and on the jobs site, as well as being sent to state and national elections groups, Mangano said.

The application period will remain open through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, though the elections board has the authority to extend the deadline.

“We did try to cast a wide net,” Mangano said.

He said about 20 applications had been received.

The elections board is expected to begin reviewing them during its Tuesday evening meeting, though it will likely be a few months before a decision is made.

To be approved, Ledford’s replacement will need four of the elections board’s five members to vote ‘yes.’ The board is made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent.

Whoever is selected as Gwinnett’s next elections supervisor will have a lot of work in front of them, as the county adopts the state’s new voting machines and otherwise prepares for the 2020 election season.

And they’ll undoubtedly find themselves under close scrutiny by voting rights groups and politicos alike.

As the AJC reported, Gwinnett had rejected a disproportionate number of absentee by-mail ballots ahead of the November election, which included a contentious governor's race and a tightly contested race for the 7th Congressional District.

A series of lawsuits ultimately forced Gwinnett and other counties to count some previously rejected absentee ballots.

Gwinnett officials maintained that they decided which ballots should be rejected or accepted by the same interpretation of state law they had always used. They asked the legislature to clarify election laws moving forward.

In her more than three decades with the county, Ledford has seen it grow from a quiet suburb to a sprawling, deeply diverse community with nearly 1 million people. The county now has more than 540,000 registered voters and, under a federal mandate, offers ballots and other voting materials in Spanish.

Lauren Groh-Wargo is the CEO of Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams after her loss in November’s governor’s race.

“Gwinnett voters deserve a robust search for candidates who will listen and learn about the struggles voters have faced, who will understand the unique opportunities and challenges in Gwinnett, and whose experiences reflect the diversity of the community they will serve,” Groh-Wargo said.

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