Kidd: New election law is an 'unfunded mandate'

Milton Kidd, director of Elections and Registration in Douglas County, listed several problems he sees with the new state elections law during a recent radio interview.

Georgia election officials are still trying to understand all of the implications of the state’s controversial election overhaul since it passed in this year’s legislative session.

Milton Kidd, director of Elections and Registration in Douglas County, was featured in a recent story on WABE headlined “Three Weeks In, Georgia Election Officials Grapple with New Law’s Effects.”

In Douglas County the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last year to utilize $371,553 in grant money to purchase a voting bus for the purpose of helping to ease long lines and serve as a pop-up component during early and regular voting.

Grant money was obtained through the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which gave Douglas County a grant of $1,662,490. The county received $99,600 from the USC Schwarzenegger Institute funded by the politician and actor who is perhaps best known for his role as “The Terminator.”

In addition to Douglas, several other Georgia counties, including neighboring Cobb, Carroll, Paulding and Fulton counties, all received grants from CTCL.

Carroll County’s elections office received $66,776 from CTCL, according to a report in the Times-Georgian.

The Douglas County Board of Elections also sponsored programming on WABE, the National Public Radio affiliate in Atlanta.

Kidd told WABE the bus would have also been used for voter registration drives and outreach to voters throughout the county.

But under the new state guidelines the county won’t likely be able to use the voting bus, since the law now restricts use to emergencies only.

According to the Douglas County Elections website, in the January General Election there were 102,896 registered voters in Douglas County and 62,440, or 60.68%, voted.

Kidd didn’t return both phone or email requests from the Sentinel for comment on the impact of the changes to voting law and what they mean to Douglas County, but he told WABE that the law is an “unfunded mandate” and said that grant funds received by the county last year had made it possible to “afford the 2020 election.”

The new law brings new costs and new burdens, say election officials. But it doesn’t include additional state support for the required changes.

Under the new law, a county with polling places that have lines longer than an hour must respond by adding another polling place, voting equipment or poll workers.

“My greatest concern is the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the elections office. I think that this hinders our ability to deliver elections in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Kidd told the radio station.

Kidd and other officials contend that this law will force counties to bear additional election expenses.

But at the same time, the law outlaws counties from paying for any election administration costs through outside funding or gifts, including grants.

All 159 counties in Georgia are now required to print ballots on new “security paper” to enable ballot authentication. Fulton County officials estimated that could increase countywide elections’ printing costs by $40,000.

Douglas will have to drop from 10 drop boxes used last year down to one, because the law restricts drop boxes by population.

One other provision that’s particularly worrisome to many officials is the State Election Board’s new ability to take over a county’s election management.

But Deidre Holden, Kidd’s counterpart with the Paulding County Election office, said that some reaction to that change may stem from a lack of understanding about what it would take to have that happen.

And Paulding County also received a CTCL grant, but prior to spending it, opted to give the money back, Holden said.

According to the WABE story, the law empowers the state panel to appoint someone to take over, but only if after in at least two elections within two years, the board finds “nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence in the administration of the elections.”

In addition to Georgia other GOP-led states have weighed measures to curtail local election officials. Texas and Arizona are considering similar ideas. Iowa added criminal penalties for officials who disobey guidance.

Officials in nearby Bartow and Heard counties also pointed out that there was already a mechanism in place for the state to intervene in problematic elections administration in the Georgia state code through the courts.

Tom Mahoney, chair of the Chatham County Board of Elections in Savannah, had a different perspective. He supports the provision in the name of strengthening voter confidence.

“I have to say that I welcome that scrutiny because that’s part of that transparency,” he said. “For people to have confidence in their elections, they have to be able to see it. They have to be able to complain about it.”

While Kidd appreciates a new provision in the law that allows counties to recruit poll workers from neighboring areas, he pointed to another new provision that requires counties to continue tabulating ballots until they’re finished — no breaks.

“We are not robots; we are human beings that have the same conditions that you have,” Kidd told WABE. “Elections is one of the few jobs in which we expect perfection without recognizing the humanity of people.”

But Holden said there’s a flip-side to the changes, as well.

“It’s making a lot of counties step back and re-evaluate the way that they conduct elections, their policies, their procedures, their SOPs and I think this law has probably made us all do our jobs better, to make sure we’re doing things to the best of our ability, but I think that part of the law has scared people,” she said.