Council discusses election concerns

Published 7:14 pm Friday, March 29, 2019

During Tuesday’s LaGrange City Council Retreat at Great Wolf Lodge, the council discussed issues related to elections, including the upcoming November election that will include re-election bids for three current members.

There has been some discussion at both city and county levels regarding how the board of elections functions. City elections have been run by the Troup County Board of Elections for decades.

County Manager Eric Mosley, who attended the meeting, said Troup County will receive 160 new voting machines this year, which have recently been approved for use across the state. The city’s November election is slated to be the first election conducted with the new voting machines. City elections typically see significantly lower voter turnout than state and national elections.

However, even with new equipment, there were some concerns expressed by the council related to the status of the county registrar. Council Member Nathan Gaskin expressed concern for Troup County Election Supervisor Andy Harper being limited in what he can do under state law, since he is not a citizen of the state and lives in Alabama. Gaskin said that part of his concern stemmed from his own election, when someone who did not live in the LaGrange city limits was almost allowed to run against him. Gaskin said that he had trouble getting someone to address the issue of a candidate not meeting residency requirements, and he blamed the status of the registrar and indifference for any delay.

Troup County Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Crews said that the critical role in resolving such an issue is held by the board of elections itself, which is made up of residents of the state.

“Andy Harper is the paid county staff member that is in that election office,” Crews said. “Now, there have been a lot of questions about Andy being the registrar. That has come up from several people, and it is always tied to the fact that Andy lives in Alabama, and the Georgia rules say that you can’t live out of state and be registrar. Andy is not the registrar. The registrar is actually the board of elections.”

Crews said that the identity of the county’s registrar is currently incorrectly identified on the secretary of state’s website, and the county is attempting to address the issue with the state. Additionally, he said that the county website’s recent update now includes more information on elections, which should resolve some confusion.

There has been discussion at the county level about reducing the number of members on the board, or even dissolving the board, which would require state approval. The board has also been asked if it would like to be changed to a working board, which would change its nature by likely increasing the time commitment required and likely including compensation. Gaskin said he worried that the board was not committed since it is currently not paid.

“I do not have faith in the election board. I’m just going to tell you flat out,” Gaskin said. “I know they are disgruntled because they are not paid, and they are supposed to have a paid board.”

The board originally agreed not to be paid to attend meetings when it was formed, but recently requested to be paid for their service. Council Member Willie Edmondson noted that the Health Department Board is not paid because it is seen as a civic duty. Council Member LeGree McCamey asked if members of the election board knew what they are allowed to do, to which Crews said that they had been informed of their powers. Council Member Tom Gore asked if the board members were taking advantage of available training and if the training was cost prohibitive. Mosley said that the election board is required to maintain a certain level of training, and the county covers the cost of the training.

Thornton indicated that the city is not interested in running its own elections, and City Manager Meg Kelsey said that the city would not have adequately trained employees to do so, with only one employee trained, but requiring recertification. Thornton said the city had a good experience with the county running its elections and has saved money over what it would cost for the probate court to run city elections.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on April 9 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.