New Legislation Creates Wheeler County Board of Elections
Legislation passed at the last session of the state General Assembly enables Wheeler County to establish a Board of Elections and Registration. Sponsored by State Sen. Blake Tillery (R-19), Vidalia, and State Rep. Jimmy Pruett, Jr. (R-149), Eastman, the bill realized the vision of late Wheeler County Probate Judge Roy Braswell. Judge Braswell, who served as the Probate judge for 21 years before his retirement and subsequent death, had challenged the Wheeler County Commission for eight years to do as so many other Georgia counties had already done and shift the responsibility of election superintendent to a nonelected board.
Current Probate Judge Jolinda Harrelson, who is currently in charge of supervising elections, is in complete support of the move. “It just makes sense to do this.” Judge Harrelson will continue her role until the end of this year, including supervising the November 3 election, and then hand the reins over to the newly-created board. In commenting on the delay in making the change, Wheeler County Commission Chairman Keith McNeal said the cost associated with adding a full-time elections superintendent position was a big reason. He said he thinks the county is in better financial shape than in previous years. “We haven’t had to go up on the millage rate and we haven’t had to go to the bank to borrow any money to finish out the year.” The bill was signed and enacted on June 29, 2020, as ACT 368 and will take effect January 1, 2021. The following quoted sections from the bill spell out the mechanics of how the board will be developed and the roles and responsibilities of the members.
“SECTION 3. (a) The board shall be composed of three members, each of whom shall be an elector and resident of the county and who shall be appointed by the commissioners. (b) The initial members of the board shall be appointed for terms of office beginning January 1, 2021. The commissioners shall designate one of the initial members to serve for a term of two years and the second and third members to serve for a term of four years. Thereafter, all members shall be appointed for terms of four years. (c) Every two years, the board shall appoint or reappoint one of its members to serve as chairperson for a two-year term. The chairperson shall preside over all meetings of the board and shall be entitled to vote on all matters coming before the board.
SECTION 5. Each member of the board shall: (1) Be eligible to be reappointed to succeed himself or herself; (2) Have the right to resign at any time by giving written notice of such resignation to the commissioners and to the clerk of the superior court; (3) Serve until his or her successor is appointed and qualified; (4) Be subject to removal for good cause by the commissioners at any time after prior notice and a hearing; and (5) Before entering upon his or her duties, take substantially the same oath as required by law for registrars and shall have the same privileges from arrest.
SECTION 10. The chairperson of the board shall preside at all meetings of the board, serve as spokesperson for the board, and generally supervise, direct, and control the administration of the affairs of the board pursuant to law and duly adopted resolutions of the board.
SECTION 13. (a) The county shall hire a full-time election supervisor to administer and supervise the conduct of the elections and primaries and the registration of electors of the county. The election supervisor shall not be eligible to serve as a member of the board. The election supervisor shall be considered a county employee for purposes of pay, benefits, sick leave, vacation, termination of employment, and other purposes. The election supervisor shall be subject to direction, evaluation, and corrective action by the county. (b) The election supervisor may recommend to the county for employment such full-time and part-time employees as may be deemed necessary by the election supervisor and as are approved in an annual budget adopted by the commissioners. All such employees shall be considered county employees for purposes of pay, benefits, sick leave, vacation, and other purposes in accordance with policies adopted by the commissioners. (c) The same individual may serve as the chief registrar, the election superintendent, and the election supervisor at the discretion of the county. SECTION 18. Upon the effective date of this Act, the Probate Court of Wheeler County and the Board of Registrars of Wheeler County shall be relieved of all powers and duties transferred to the board by this Act and shall deliver to the board all facilities and personal property, including but not limited to equipment, supplies, materials, books, papers, and records, pertaining to such powers and duties.”