Macon-Bibb elections supervisor’s resignation cites stress, workload, new election laws

Jeanetta Watson, who resigned effective Jan. 21, led the Board of Elections since 2012 after joining the office in 2007.


Macon-Bibb County file photo

Macon-Bibb County Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson, center, poses with the Phoenix Award during the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials conference last summer.

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections begins a busy election year scrambling to find a new elections supervisor.

Jeanetta Watson, who became the county’s first Black elections supervisor after Elaine Carr retired in 2012, resigned last week. Her last day is expected to be Jan. 21.

Board of Elections Chairman Darius Maynard said the board “sadly and reluctantly” accepted her resignation Friday after an executive session. He acknowledged the difficulties of running the office in recent years, which included navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, the tumultuous 2020 Presidential Election, new voting systems and contentious U.S. Senate run-offs.

“I’m just sorry we had to get to this point with the climate we’re in,” Maynard told the board last week.

Watson submitted a resignation letter to the board dated Jan. 5. The Center for Collaborative Journalism obtained a copy Monday.

The letter stated it was a “very difficult decision” due to the supportive staff and board members who made Watson’s tenure a “very positive experience.”

She cited the following reasons for her departure: “Not having an assistant makes meeting the demands of an excessive workload, rapidly changing elections laws, policies, and procedures more complicated and overwhelmingly stressful. So much so, that I find it extremely hard to disconnect during non-work hours, and it has taken a toll on my mental health. Election officials throughout the state share these same sentiments and have also decided to resign, retire, and or pursue other careers.”

Watson declined to elaborate on her plans beyond the letter.

In an interview Monday with the Center for Collaborative Journalism, Maynard explained that he and Watson were reviewing current staffing levels and job duties.

Last summer, during the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials conference, or GAVREO, the two talked with representatives from around the state about how other offices operate.

Maynard pointed out that the Board of Elections oversees both elections and voter registration. He found other communities have more well-defined job descriptions than Macon-Bibb.

“Whereas, we have fewer people that do a lot of things,” Maynard said. “We were trying to get more specific in our job duties to improve efficiency and effectiveness and wanted a recommendation.”

Pending revisions stalled due to the turnover in the Macon-Bibb County Human Resources Department last year, he said.

‘Sad day for our country’

Board of Elections at-large member Mike Kaplan said Friday was a “sad day for our country and especially Macon-Bibb,” as he traced Watson’s troubles back to allegations of improper vote counting during the Presidential Election.

Kaplan said workers were “followed home every night” and under round-the-clock surveillance.

“The stress and fear is too much,” Kaplan said, adding that he believes Watson went through “a very contentious election where she was in fear of her life.”

Maynard said the board will identify an interim supervisor as soon as possible. The Macon-Bibb County Commission will have to approve Watson’s successor.

“We had an interim in mind that we discussed last week, and that person agreed at first, but they’ve already pulled back out,” Maynard said.

Herb Spangler, one of two Republican representatives on the board who also served as a poll manager decades ago, said he was shocked by Watson’s resignation.

“I really, really was hoping she would stay on,” Spangler said. “She’s a very knowledgeable person. I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know who we’re going to get to replace her. She was fair. She had a good personality. She had a calming voice. She was always professional and it’s going to be hard to find someone who will be able to fill her shoes.”

Georgians will go to the polls this year to choose a governor and other state and congressional leaders.

With pending plans to move the office to the Macon Mall, Spangler said the resignation couldn’t come at a “worse time,” but he understands why Watson felt the need to step into a new career.

“She’s really been under a lot of pressure. The last election was unbelievable,” Spangler said. “I feel sorry for her. I don’t know how she has put up with it as long as she has, really.”

Maynard said Macon-Bibb County is not alone.

“Fulton and DeKalb both are experiencing the loss of the executive director or elections supervisor,” he said. “Election workers across the state are just dropping and it’s going to be a little difficult to find someone … find good people to replace great people.”

He expects the Macon-Bibb County Human Resources Department to coordinate the job posting and search for a replacement.

Watson’s colleagues honored her during the state conference by presenting her the “Phoenix Award” for being able to “Rise Up” and ensure a smooth 2020 Election.

“This recognition was truly very special and means a lot to be one of the very first recipients of the GAVREO Phoenix award,” Watson said last year. “To be acknowledged during a time when morale is at an all-time low and while still being faced with the pessimistic views of 2020, was more than refreshing. The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections is proud of what we accomplished.”

Watson was not specific about her plans, but indicated in her resignation letter that she was changing professions: “Because I have decided to take advantage of an alternative career, unfortunately, I will not be able to assist with the transition of a new supervisor. I pray that our office will continue to provide strong leadership and success.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.