ELLIJAY, Ga. – Amid budget talks and election recounts, Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain is continuing seeking to move elections out of the Probate Office and to an alternative, like an election board.
The issue has been broached in budget talks over recent years as the number of Probate Judges’ in Georgia remaining as elections superintendents has decreased. Chastain has requested that Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners take steps now to move elections to be run by an appointed board.
Chastain commented in the Commissioners November meeting saying, “I think with 23,500, plus or minus, registered voters in Gilmer County and 16,500 or so of those voting in this last election, Gilmer County has risen to the level of population where it is very difficult, I believe, for me to continue to do what I do as a Probate Judge and put on a hat as an Election Superintendent as well. It has always bothered me, too, that I am in control of elections in a county that I run for office. I am on the ballot. To me, that is a conflict…”
Rising debates from the commissioners explored ideas of a three-person-board versus a five-person-board as well as the idea of appointing a new election superintendent that isn’t the Probate Judge. They immediately questioned such a position and its accountability, but did consider options from other public positions either elected or appointed by the county.
Chastain himself suggested at one point that the Board of Commissioners consider creating the Board of Elections within the Registrar’s Office and possibly including Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins on the board or as the superintendent. The sentiment was later partly echoed by Board of Voter Registration member Sherri Jones who offered her personal opinion saying that she would also like to see the elections join with the Registrar’s Office.
Chastain urged the commissioners to take action on creating a Board of Elections before the increasing numbers of counties moving to a board creates state pressure. He said that he wanted to work with the county on building it with them the way they wanted it before a state legislation comes and mandates the move. A direction that he strongly feels is coming in the future and a legislation that he said he would likely support if brought up. It is a sentiment that he feels many other probate judges would share. He also added that he did not, personally, believe that the Council of Probate Judges would oppose it.
Already researching legislations from other counties that have created an election board, Chastain presented this research as well as a plea to reconsider the idea that has seen no fruition to this point. Noting that there are 32 counties left in Georgia that still have the Probate Judge overseeing the elections including Gilmer. He stated that 28 0f the remaining 31 judges (not counting Gilmer) in the state that still oversee elections want it removed from their office.
Chastain said, “It’s a matter of time before, I think, the state does that.”
The board has still not taken action on the subject as it was brought up during Citizens Wishing to Speak section and not on the agenda. However, the Board of Commissioners did look to put the item on the December agenda for further consideration and possible action through options like a new superintendent or an election board.