Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 14, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 14, 2023

General Sherman’s army prepared for the March to the Sea on November 14, 1864.

On November 14, 1944, the Constitutional Convention working on a revised document for Georgia reversed its position on home rule that had been adopted the previous day on the motion of Governor Ellis Arnall.

Three astronauts with connections to Georgia – Eric Boe, Robert Kimbrough, and Sandra Magnus – were aboard the space shuttle Endeavor when it lifted off on November 14, 2008.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Expect to hear about this is the 2024 Session of the Georgia General Assembly: the City of Gordon inital posted election left out 495 votes, according to 13WMAZ.

In a follow-up interview, Kelly Chatman said that there were in fact 495 uncounted ballots compared the previously reported 1,300. We corrected this story with that new figure.

It’s nearly six days since polls closed on Gordon’s City Election and they still don’t have unofficial results.

Wilkinson County Election Supervisor Kelly Chatman says computers malfunction Tuesday and around 495 ballots went uncounted. Her office last Tuesday announced unofficial results from 860 ballots in the Gordon City election.

They showed Cliff Worthy, Dawn Beck and Kyle Swicord winning three city council seats. But Chapman says that’s wrong and all of the votes cast last Tuesday still aren’t counted.

She says she plans to gather the candidates and election staff tomorrow at 10 a.m. for a full count. All 2,100 plus ballots need to be re-scanned. The deadline for submitting numbers to the state to be certified is 5 p.m. Tuesday.

More grist for the mill, from WMAZ:

Kelly Chatman is the election supervisor for Wilkinson County. She was surprised that the memory card for the Gordon election could only show an error message.

“I called the state. My liaison at the state and said my numbers aren’t adding up. She said ‘You have to do this again it’s not right. Your election is still incomplete,” Chatman said.

The memory card from Gordon’s election day sent an error message instead of numbers, making it look like no one went to the polls to cast their ballot.

“It’s like election day disappeared. It’s like wait a minute our numbers aren’t adding up,{ Chatman said.

This tape serves as a copy of the memory card. It shows 495 ballots were scanned. That’s how many ballots have to be hand-counted and rescanned before certification.

“We have state codes we have to go by. We have a state code that says we have to make sure our numbers are right before we certify. To not recount these ballots, to make sure my election is right and my numbers are right, I did the right thing of saying we need to recount,” Chatman said.

It’s been six days since the election, but Chatman says it’s because this race is a close one.

“When you have this close of a race, you need to make sure you count and count to make sure it’s correct,” Chatman said.

If she doesn’t double-check, it goes against her beliefs and puts her at risk of going to jail.

“That’s an injustice to state, to that city, and to my office, and that’s not something I’m willing to put my freedom on the line for,” Chatman said.

There will be a final recount Tuesday morning with the election staff and the Gordon candidates. The count will take place at the Wilkinson County Magistrate Court building at 10 a.m. This will finalize the Gordon election and all other elections in the county from last week.

A Fulton County vote recount uncovered some issues with missing votes, according to the AJC.

Fulton County Elections Director Nadine Williams said Tuesday some early votes had been left out of totals for the Nov. 7 municipal election.

Election officials conducted a full recount Monday, and that’s when the omission was discovered, Williams said. Tabulation of the recount continued Tuesday morning and is expected to be complete Tuesday afternoon, according to Patrise Perkins-Hooker, chair of the Board of Elections & Registration.

From the AJC:

When a hand count matched the machine count of absentee ballots, a bipartisan handful of observers clapped and cheered in the Spalding County election office Monday night.

The election audit was finally over after two long days of ballot verification in the county an hour south of Atlanta, one of several Georgia Republican-led counties that sought to verify the accuracy of voting machines after last week’s elections.

Conservative activists and Republican election officials said the audits helped restore trust, especially since no significant discrepancies were found.

“We were all excited to see the numbers totaling up with pure transparency and pure accuracy,” said Holly Kesler, Georgia coordinator for the advocacy group Citizens Defending Freedom. “We’re at a point now where both sides really do agree that we need transparency in our elections.”

Before the audit, Spalding County’s election board had voted not to certify the election until discrepancies were resolved.

The largest discrepancy in the hand count of over 5,500 ballots was a three-vote difference during early voting in a Griffin City Commission race. The board voted 2-1 to certify the election Tuesday.

About 73% of voters said in a January survey that last year’s elections — in which Republicans won almost every statewide race — were conducted fairly and accurately, an increase from 56% of voters expressing confidence the year before.

Six Republican-led Georgia counties pursued optional hand counts after this year’s local elections. Fulton County, which is run by Democrats, conducted a second machine count of ballots in school board races to check the results.

“Once it’s done in good faith, it’s a very powerful tool that can really help achieve voter confidence,” Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said. “When it’s done looking for a problem, when it’s done digging for something after the fact, it just doesn’t have the same value.”

Besides Bartow and Spalding, election officials also conducted hand counts in Floyd, Forsyth, Paulding and Polk counties.

Brooklet voters rejected a referendum to allow liquor stores in the city by a single vote, according to the Statesboro Herald.

In Brooklet, a referendum proposal that would have enabled the city government to license liquor stores was defeated by just one vote, with 75 residents voting “no” and 74 voting “yes.” With Brooklet having 1,338 registered voters and 151 total votes cast, turnout was 11.3%.

Keith Roughton won the three-candidate race for Brooklet City Council Post 1 by garnering 77 votes while Seth Cannon got 38 and Melanie Garcia 31.

The Floyd County Board of Elections expects to certify the results of last week’s elections later today, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Certification of the Nov. 7 General Election was postponed Monday and has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday.

According to Jerry Lee, chair of the Floyd County Board of Elections and Registration, the post-election audit is nearly complete. He added that there were originally around 200 provisional ballots, but many of those have been cleared up.

A voter can cast a provisional ballot when their eligibility to vote cannot be determined at the polling place. The vote counts if the voter’s eligibility can be determined within three days after Election Day by the county registrar’s office.

Rome is considering creating a new Tax Allocation District, according to the Rome News Tribune.

On Monday, the Rome-Floyd County Redevelopment Agency approved the boundaries for the North Broad Redevelopment Corridor, which is more than 1,700 parcels, and the smaller area consisting of 22 parcels that could be the next TAD.

The action taken by the Redevelopment Agency is just the first step in the process.

“There are public hearings that will be held by the governing bodies to move forward with the redevelopment plan adoption and the Tax Allocation District adoption, so at some point, in the near future, it would allow for a project and developer to come forward and put together a specific application requesting tax allocation dollars,” Rich said.

A public hearing will be held before Jan. 1, likely sometime in December. Then, within 45 days, a meeting will be held to consider approval of the redevelopment plan. If approved, the developer of the hotel could then apply for TAD funding.

Under a TAD, any increase in property taxes stemming from improvements would be funneled back into the project for a set number of years.

The Georgia Water Coalition held a statewide meeting to discuss protecting the Okefenokee Swamp, according to the Albany Herald.

Attendees toured the Okefenokee Swamp Park, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, and the St. Marys River. During the member meeting at South Georgia State College, Georgia Water Coalition members learned about how mining proposals along Trail Ridge threaten the Okefenokee.

“The Okefenokee touches everyone that touches its dark waters,” Mike Worley, CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, said. “For decades, Georgia Wildlife Federation has helped introduce folks to the Okefenokee. We have worked to protect the Okefenokee from one of the most serious threats to its continued existence, mining along the adjacent Trail Ridge.

“The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to provide a ‘refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife’ — but it has also become a people refuge for so many to reconnect with the natural world and to see and experience the wonders of nature.”

Attendees learned that the Okefenokee Protection Act, HB 71, would provide permanent protections from risky mining along a section of Trail Ridge near the swamp. This sandy area holds deposits of titanium dioxide and other common minerals found in everyday products like paints and sunscreens. Trail Ridge also forms the boundary of the Okefenokee Swamp and is critical to how water flows to the swamp.

“The St. Marys River and its headwaters, the Okefenokee Swamp, are pristine waterways and loved by all locals,” St. Marys Riverkeeper Emily Floore said. “HB 71 would protect a critical section of Trail Ridge from future mining operations to ensure the continued existence of the Okefenokee Swamp and the ecosystem connected to it. However, what the bill does not mention is that it also protects the St. Marys River.

“One bill can preserve two beloved Georgia waterways.”

The Okefenokee Protection Act (HB 71) was introduced in January 2023 and is sponsored by more than half of the House of Representatives. The Georgia Water Coalition recently recognized the Okefenokee Protection Act’s lead sponsor, Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, with a Clean 13 Award.

“For many of us, the Okefenokee is part of our identity. We may have different temperaments, talents, and convictions, but we are all Swampers and are defined by it,” Friends of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge President Josh Howard said. “We don’t want to take any risks that may put it in jeopardy.

The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 250 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002. Collectively, these organizations represent thousands of Georgians.

Democratic state legislators discussed rent control legislation, according to the Center Square via the Albany Herald.

“It’s not just the Atlanta area that’s having these problems,” state Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, said during a state Senate Urban Affairs Committee meeting. “It is all over our state and our nation.”

During the hearing, state Rep. Rhonda Taylor, D-Conyers, said 37 states already have some control measures or prohibitions.

“We have a huge problem with tenants being evicted, with rents going up, and it impacts working-class people, the people that work in our restaurants, the people that work in our grocery stores, the people that teach in our schools,” state Rep. Terry Cummings, D-Mableton, said. “It’s not just a lower-class problem. It’s a problem; it’s a middle-class problem. It’s a problem across the board.”

“We know it’s not just here in Georgia, but in Georgia, with the prohibition against any type of rent control, it really prevents any municipality, any local government, any county, any city from addressing the issue in a way that benefits their constituents,” Cummings added. “…If we can do something about it, just to give local governments control to negotiate and address the problem would be a huge step in the right direction.”

Jet Toney, representing the Georgia Affordable Housing Coalition, said the state already has rent control under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, also known as the State Housing Tax Credit.

“For the tax credits that are awarded for a development in your districts, the developer agrees for a period of 30 years to offer the units — at least a majority of the units — at a below market rate, and that is governed by the federal program,” Toney said. “I want to make clear that there is rent control in the state of Georgia, and it is through this program.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants to increase affordable housing and internet connectivity in South Georgia, according to WALB.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to bring more accessible broadband to South Georgia. HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman made that announcement in Albany on Monday.

That issue is what a lot of other families in rural Georgia face. That’s why the Biden administration says they’re pushing for more investments in rural America — starting with more supported access to broadband.

A new streamlined enrollment process will allow any family receiving rental assistance from HUD to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program, which will give them access to much-needed broadband connections here in South Georgia.

“It’s so important for the Biden Administration that if we have these federal dollars, we’re going to make sure people have access to it, and they can get access to it quickly,” said Adrianne Todman, HUD Deputy Secretary.

“It’s critical. Right when you think about a student in the 6th grade trying to get their homework done, when you think about a mom who’s trying to apply for a job, when you think about a grandparent who maybe needs to access healthcare, it’s critical to living our daily lives,” Todman said.

Broadband isn’t the only issue many South Georgians are facing. The Albany Housing Authority has 18 public and subsidized housing properties throughout Albany. But even with those home options, city leaders and residents say there’s still a huge need for more low-income housing options.

But it’s not only the lack of affordable housing that is an issue in Albany. The number of homes that need repairs in some parts of town is also bringing down the property value.

Hyundai announced plans to raise workers’ pay in their new plant to $25/hour, according to the AJC.

Every drive past the under-construction Hyundai electric vehicle factory makes Trip Tollison equal parts excited and nervous.

Excited because the Hyundai Metaplant, the largest economic development project in Georgia history, and its suppliers will add an estimated 15,000 jobs to the region.

Nervous because Savannah and the surrounding area don’t have 15,000 workers to spare.

Not long after Hyundai signed on to build the electric vehicle and battery plant in May 2022 did Tollison — along with many other area government, business and educational officials — begin to express concerns about the Metaplant’s impact on the local labor force.

A study released Tuesday anticipates the tight labor market conditions will continue. Commissioned by the Savannah JDA, the report projects Savannah-area manufacturers and other employers will encounter a severe worker shortage in 2025, shortly after the Hyundai plant begins production.

“We have a deficiency in industrial workers, and it won’t be long before we exhaust what we have here,” Tollison said. “Come 2025, it becomes a challenge and gets progressively worse — unless we do something about it.”

Attracting labor isn’t just about staffing Hyundai and Gulfstream. The automaker will hire away employees currently working for Gulfstream and other Savannah-area businesses. Those companies will in turn lure talent from other firms in town.

The vacancies are expected to impact several sectors beyond manufacturing — warehousing, construction, retail, leisure and hospitality — and reshape Savannah’s labor landscape. Ruel Joyner, a Savannah businessman and a board member of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, applauded the release of the study and the Savannah JDA’s efforts to “break down silos” that could hinder addressing the looming labor shortage.

The Judicial Council of Georgia’s Ad Hoc Committee on ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Funding announced grants to local courts to help address remaining COVID case backlogs, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Judicial Council of Georgia Ad Hoc Committee on ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Funding has awarded grants totaling $20.7 million to be distributed among 39 judicial circuits that applied for 2024-25 funding, including $38,501 to the Conasauga Judicial Circuit (Whitfield and Murray counties).

In calendar year 2022, grants totaling $44.147 million were awarded to 42 of the 50 judicial circuits. The committee has previously awarded more than $54 million to 39 judicial circuits for calendar year 2023 funding; in a program change announced this year, the grant period for 2023 awards has been extended through Dec. 31, 2025, and any unspent funds remaining at the end of this calendar year will carry over and be eligible for use through the entire grant period. Subject to available funds, the program is planned to run through 2026.

The Georgia Department of Education announced the Georgia Literacy Academy, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Georgia Department of Education is launching a literacy initiative aimed at both improving literacy among students and training educators on the science of reading.

The Georgia Literacy Academy, a partnership between the state and the Atlanta-based Rollins Center for Language & Literacy, will be rolled out in nine school districts and three charter schools for its first two years.

Participants will include the Colquitt, Dooly, Grady, Lowndes, Muscogee, Seminole and Thomas county school districts; the Pelham and Valdosta city school districts, the International Academy of Smyrna, The Kindezi Schools, and ZEST Preparatory Academy.

“It is our fundamental responsibility to ensure students learn to read, and then- for the rest of their lives – can read to learn,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said Monday. “This partnership will strengthen early literacy instruction for students across the state.”

Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly have made improving Georgia’s literacy rates a priority. This year, lawmakers passed and Kemp signed two literacy bills introducing two related approaches to literacy instruction: “the science of reading” and “structured literacy.”

Warner Robins City Council member Charlie Bibb is accused of campaigning at voting locations, according to 13WMAZ.

Charlie Bibb was allegedly campaigning at two separate polling locations at two separate times on Tuesday, Nov. 7: The Houston Healthcare Roy H. “Sonny” Watson Health Pavilion and Mossy Creek Middle School.

“No laws were broken at the Pavilion,” Henry Freeman, Property Manager of the Houston Healthcare Pavilion said.

However, a Houston County Democrat member alleges they saw the councilman inside the middle school precinct just before polls closed at 7 p.m.

The political group initially alleged the poll manager at the precinct “failed to meet her basic responsibility of preventing voters from being exposed to illegal electioneering.”

Members of the Houston County Democrats say they then escalated their complaints against Bibb.

Kiefer was reporting what she believed she was witnessing to the county board of elections as it was happening, according to Election Supervisor Assistant Andy Holland and files shared by the Houston County Democrats.

“Everybody who wants to hang around knows the rules, that they can’t campaign or do anything like that at a polling precinct,” Peterson said. “Especially not candidates, and definitely not an incumbent, for that matter.”

If the accusations against Councilman Bibb are true, he would have broken two election laws.

According to Georgia laws, candidates cannot be inside a polling place during an election unless they’re there to vote or within 150 feet of “the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established.”

Milledgeville City Council will consider a 2-mill property tax rate increase, according to 13WMAZ.

A lot of prices have gone up to keep up with inflation.

The City of Milledgeville says it’s affecting them too. That’s why city leaders want to raise the millage rate by two mills– from 10.12 mills to 12.12 mills.

Mayor Mary Parham Copelan says the millage rate hasn’t changed since 2018, but now it needs to.

“It’s an economic thing to be able to keep the city functioning,” Parham Copeland said. “When you look at the roads, the pavement– everything has gone up. The cost of fuel has went up to run our vehicles everyday.”

She says part of it is also to keep paying city employees fair, livable wages. In July, the police and fire departments all got raises approved in the new budget, as well as every other city employee.

“Keeping those qualified people here to make sure that the city is functioning efficiently,” she said.

She says each mill will add an additional $40 to the tax bill for a $100,000 home.

The Dougherty County Commission Finance Committee discussed SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funding, according to WALB.

Rather than waiting for funds to be generated through a 1% sales tax (SPLOST), the Dougherty County County’s Finance Committee held a roundtable discussion with Daylight Capital Advisors on the potential issuance of a bond instrument.

“This does not expand our budget, we are only spending what our estimated SPLOST returns will be,” said Dougherty County Finance Chairman Clinton Johnson.

The bond would go ahead and grant the county the money they anticipate generating from SPLOST funds, but it would cost the county money. $1.6 million to be exact.

“Is it better to go out now at the price and cost of inflation and interest rates to make purchases to make investments in our community, or do we wait and gamble and look at the money we gathered, how far will it go and years to com,” said Johnson.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Augusta Health Care System is hosting an event for veterans experiencing homelessness, according to WRDW.

Participants will get access to limited life-essential items like toiletries, gloves, blankets and socks, a boxed lunch, a VA eligibility screening, the opportunity to register for VA health care, local community agency information, and information on housing, including for homeless veterans.

Veterans attending the Stand Down can expect access to a VA eligibility screening, the opportunity to register for VA healthcare, local community agency information, and HUD-VASH and other Veteran housing information.

VA is on track to permanently house 38,000 homeless veterans this year, having reached 26,470 through July. VA Augusta has housed more than 140 veterans in 2023, with none of them returning to unhoused living conditions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently published a press release announcing more than $1 billion in grants to help homeless and at-risk Veterans.

Rincon City Attorney Raymond Dickey resigned, according to WSAV.

The City released a statement saying, in part, “Moving forward the city will explore all viable options and select the most beneficial one for the city and our residents. The governmental climate has evolved tremendously in the last two decades and our needs of someone in that role have as well.”

Dickey served as the city attorney since 2002.

John W. “Tripp” Wingate, III announced he is running for Hall County State Court, according to AccessWDUN.

“My legal career and background show that I am qualified, am willing to put in the time to do the work, and have experience with a wide variety of people and problems,” Wingate said. “While I have been sitting in the same chair behind the same desk in the same law office on Green Street for the past 24 years, I have not forgotten the great opportunities and learning experiences provided to me during my formative years while working on my grandparents’ farm, working at a True Value hardware store, driving a vending machine route, and selling men’s clothing”.

“If chosen by the people of Hall County to serve as their next State Court judge, I will not leave common sense or my years of experience at the front door of the courthouse and will always seek to be prepared for each case being presented,” Wingate said. “I will give great care and due consideration to the constitutional role of our courts, as our court system and our system of government rely upon public confidence. At the end of the day, people should feel that they were provided a fair opportunity to be heard, that they were treated with respect and courtesy, and that they were given a prompt ruling they can understand.”

Wingate and his wife Julie Ellenburg Wingate have been married for 28 years. They have a daughter, Ellie, who is attending Georgia Southern University. The Wingates are members of the First Presbyterian of Gainesville.

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