Longtime Gwinnett elections board and Democratic Party member dies

Stephen Day, a Fulton County performance review panel member, speaks during the State Election Board meeting at Mercer University in Macon on Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Stephen Day, a Fulton County performance review panel member, speaks during the State Election Board meeting at Mercer University in Macon on Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Gwinnett County elections board member Stephen Day, who was also active for decades in the county’s Democratic Party, died Monday at age 71 — three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, shocking the many Gwinnettians who knew and loved him.

“He will be truly missed but his presence will always be here with us,” said Wandy Taylor, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections. “He has made such an indelible impression in Gwinnett County.”

Day is survived by his wife of 47 years, Lori, and two adult daughters, Alexandra and Olivia, as well as a sister, Marguerite, and two brothers, Andy and Roy.

Day was involved in the Gwinnett County Democratic Party for more than 30 years, including a stint as chairman from 1992 to 1996. He was also part of the Democratic Party of Georgia. He served on the county elections board for more than 10 years, including a two-year term as chairman from 2017-19.

Candidates came to see him as an expert on election law issues, said Steve Reilly, a close friend and former county party chairman. Day recently served on a state-appointed panel that reviewed Fulton County elections.

On the Gwinnett elections board, Day was part of a majority that last year threw out conservative efforts to disqualify tens of thousands of voters. He led the board when it came under fire in 2018 for its high absentee ballot rejection rate. At the time, he called for clearer state laws — and mature behavior from vitriolic residents.

The county party will fill the vacancy on the elections board, which consists of two appointees each from the Democratic and Republican parties and a fifth, nonpartisan member chosen by the other four appointees.

Day grew up in DeKalb County and graduated from Lakeside High School, his wife said. He earned a degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech.

Lori Day was attending Agnes Scott College when a friend set her up on a blind date with her future husband. They married in 1976 and initially lived in Decatur.

When Lori got pregnant eleven years later, the couple moved into a bigger house in Gwinnett, where Republicans dominated at the time. Stephen Day got into local politics anyway, making sure the state party stayed interested in the county, former state Sen. Curt Thompson said.

Thompson compared Day to NBC News’ Steve Kornacki, known for his animated explanations of election maps.

“He was pretty much our data person,” Thompson said. “He would get so excited about numbers and he was pretty good at predicting things.”

As Gwinnett turned blue in recent years, Day acted as an elder statesman in the party, but won respect from Republicans as well for behaving fairly and reasonably, Reilly said. Day was both practical and idealistic, Reilly said.

“He was one of those guys who got involved in politics for all the right reasons and God knows we don’t have enough of those these days,” Reilly said.

Taylor said she first spoke to Day when he called to congratulate her on election night in 2018 — after she lost a school board race.

“He started giving me all these numbers and data and I didn’t know what he was talking about,” she said.

When Taylor was later appointed to the elections board, she leaned on Day as a mentor. She said she learned to set aside at least 45 minutes whenever he called to talk.

When Elections Supervisor Zach Manifold moved to Gwinnett from Ohio two years ago, Day showed up while he was unpacking and took him on an impromptu tour of the county. Manifold said Day got to know all the county elections workers, who have been devastated this week at the sudden loss.

“Stephen was supportive, but he was always inquisitive of, was there a better way?” Manifold said. “Stephen didn’t just want an answer. He wanted to know how it all worked, and that was unique because most people do not want those details.

“It was always about voters at the end of the day, which was a great thing.”

Stephen Day owned a company, Day Energy, that brokered biomass materials such as wood chips and sawdust for fuel. He was a devoted father, spending every Saturday with his daughters when Lori had to work weekend shifts as an insurance agent.

He began feeling ill a month ago and doctors initially thought it was the flu, Lori Day said. When he didn’t get better and stomach pains began, a CT scan found tumors in his pancreas, liver and lungs, she said. A biopsy of his liver last week revealed the cancer was not treatable, she said.

“It was insane, absolutely insane,” Lori Day said. “They said it was the most aggressive cancer you can have.”

He died at home, with his wife and daughters at his side. A private memorial service is being planned.