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Commissioners question elections board requests
07.19 elections board
Effingham County elections board members Tommy Allen and Herb Jones listen during the board’s first meeting last week. Jones was named chairman Monday and asked county commissioners to fund training for the members. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Just how much are Effingham County commissioners willing to pay for training for the newly-seated elections board members?

Herb Jones, installed as the chairman of the elections board Monday, asked commissioners at their meeting Tuesday to fund a training session in Savannah, classes at Kennesaw State University and to observe this fall’s elections in Richmond County.

“I can tell you we are moving forward,” Jones said.

The U.S. Department of Justice also hasn’t given the elections board pre-clearance.

Commissioner Reggie Loper questioned just how much training the new board members needed and the cost of doing it.

Jones asked for four members to be able to attend a conference next month in Savannah. The cost of the session is $305 per person, and Jones said the Effingham contingent won’t be staying in Savannah.

Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems, which conducts much of the training for elections officials across the state, is holding a program for new  elections board members. Jones asked for the money to have all Effingham elections board members to attend, plus hotel rooms, meals and mileage.

Effingham officials also have been invited by Richmond County elections board Chairwoman Linda Beazley to observe their elections. Jones said Beazley is perhaps the most astute elections official in the state.

“She recommends very highly we attend those,” he said. “We’re fortunate we don’t have any elections we are responsible for this year. That’s a blessing, because we would not be certified by that time.”

Commissioners approved spending the money for the registration fees for the Savannah conference but wanted to get more information on the other two events.

“We have our representatives to thank for putting us in this position,” Commissioner Hubert Sapp said.

Loper said his conversation with a Secretary of State official Tuesday morning indicated that the KSU trip wasn’t necessary.

“All that stuff in Kennesaw is not necessary because ya’ll ain’t working on the (voting) machines,” he said. “I understand about Augusta and Savannah. But what are you going to learn in Kennesaw? I don’t think it’s necessary to go to all three places.”

Elections officials are supposed to have 12 hours of training, and Jones defended the wish to attend the events.

“I would rather be on my tractor,” he said. “But we are not going for fun. We’re going for the benefit of the citizens of the county.”

The elections board was created by the passage of House Bill 705, despite the opposition of the commissioners.

“Whether we agreed with it or not, it’s law,” Phillips said, “and we are charged with making sure every vote in Effingham County is counted.”

The pre-clearance application has been submitted to the Department of Justice. Assistant County Attorney Eric Gotwalt said he’s had inquiries from the DOJ. The usual period for pre-clearance is 60 days from the time the Department of Justice receives the application.

Sapp questioned addressing the board’s needs before it receives pre-clearance.

Elections board member Homer Lee Wallace said he has been in contact with the Department of Justice and it is his impression that pre-clearance will be granted.

Jones said Judge William Woodrum, the chief judge of the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, said the elections board was legally constituted. But Judge Woodrum decreed the elections board’s powers will still reside with the probate court and registrar until pre-clearance is finished.

“It puts the county in a difficult situation with the law when we don’t have pre-clearance yet,” Gotwalt said. “The judge did the best thing he could have done.”

Jones noted the next election for Effingham is February’s presidential preference primary.

“It would be better to be trained and not use the training, than to not be trained and not be able to do the job,” he said.

Wallace said a lack of training for elections workers and board members could have disastrous results for the county. Without proper certification, election results could be challenged through a lawsuit and be overturned, he said.