Athens residents cast their votes for the midterm elections at Cedar Shoals High School on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Athens, Georgia. Voters cast their midterm vote for members of both houses of congress as well as for a new governor in a very close race. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

Charlotte Sosebee has served as the director of elections and voter registration for the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections department since 2016. She reluctantly began her career in elections about 29 years ago in Hall County, where she took a position after working as a bank teller.

She felt unsure if the job was the right fit for her at first, Sosebee said. But after a few years of working in elections and experiencing the dynamic, changing nature of the election process every year, she decided it was the perfect job for her.

“It’s never boring because something is always changing,” Sosebee said. “The fact I am providing a service to anybody and everybody who wants to take a part of it, who has chosen by their own will to register to vote, and then to go home at night and hear the election results and know I was a part of that — that is the reason why I do what I do.”

But when election season winds down and public officials get sworn into office, what function does the board of elections serve in the community?

The never ending cycle

Even when election season comes to a close, there’s always plenty of work to be done to prepare for the next election cycle. And in the midst of preparation for the next, leftover work from the previous election takes up time.

Paula Williams, the absentee ballot clerk for ACC Board of Elections, worked on scanning and indexing the absentee applications from the 2018 governor’s race and runoff since January. She’s scanned approximately 3,000 and 1,000, respectively, for electronic storage.

Even between election cycles, the department regularly receives applications for voter registration. Since 2016, the Georgia Department of Driver Services — in an administrative change implemented in partnership with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office —automatically registers people to vote when they receive a driver’s license unless they choose to opt out. Sosebee said this has greatly increased the number of voter applications her department receives and goes through on a daily basis.

And in addition to online voter registration forms, Sosebee said she also issues approximately 50 to 70 voter registration IDs per month from walk-in visits to her department.

Changes ahead

When not handling voter applications, Sosebee said she and her colleagues brainstorm to work out ideas for helping future elections run smoother by analyzing data from previous elections. She said she looks at voter turnout at each voting location and determines which ones need more funding and poll workers to accommodate the number of voters or if a new polling place should be opened all together.

Cora Wright, the elections assistant, handles much of correspondence with the Secretary of State’s office concerning elected officials.

Wright sends out notices to elected officials to report personal finance disclosure statements once a year. Elected officials also must report campaign contribution reports twice during a non-election year and six times during an election year, and Wright’s responsible for reminding the elected officials of the approaching deadlines to report.

During her daily work day, Wright reconciles voter registration reports concerning voter duplications and vital and felon records.

With the passing and signing of Georgia House Bill 316 in April, the Board of Elections will see yet another change in how elections work, a key tenant in why Sosebee enjoys her work.

The bill replaces the electronic voting machines used previously with touchscreen-and-paper ballot machines, which prints paper ballots and allows voters to check their votes before the final tabulation. The bill also extends the time before registrations are canceled and sets limitations on closing a precinct.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill on April 2, the last day of the Georgia legislative session. Sosebee said the general election in November will likely not see the implementation of the new voting machines, but she said the bill implements improvements beyond the voting machines.

One change allows citizens who will be 18 years old by or on the date of the election in which they choose to vote to register to vote.

Sosebee said the bill will enable the Board of Elections to provide increased voter education, increased contact with voters and more training for poll workers in future elections.

After the 2018 gubernatorial election, which resulted in ACC recounting ballots for all 24 precincts, Sosebee said the new bill will help ease the labor involved in a recount.

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