Political party reps spar over election staff comments as Bibb agrees to audit precincts

Macon-Bibb Board of Elections chair approves GOP-led audit, as special Water Authority election is set for November


Liz Fabian

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections will conduct a hand count audit of three precincts from the 2022 Georgia Secretary of State’s primary race.

Macon-Bibb Board of Elections Democrat representative Darius Maynard could not stay silent during public comments at the end of Thursday’s board meeting.

Bibb County Republican Party Chair David Sumrall shared praise for poll workers at Middle Georgia State University but made a request of the board.

“None of the team members look like me,” Sumrall, who is white, said of the poll workers. “I keep hearing about diversity, inclusion and how important eliminating voter suppression is, and we’re going to work together as neighbors. So, I doubt that we had any Republicans on that fine team. If we did, they would have been blessed to work with the good people over there at Hazard 3.”

At the conclusion of Sumrall’s remarks, Maynard asked: “You say no team members look like you?”

“Sure,” Sumrall replied.

Elections board Chair Mike Kaplan interjected: “Ok, let’s don’t have any comments, OK?”

But Maynard continued: “So you’re assuming that based on race you identify what party a person belongs to?”

“I am saying I could not identify with… ,” Sumrall said before Maynard cut him off.

“Based on race,” Maynard replied.

“I couldn’t identify… ,” Sumrall continued before Maynard repeated: “Based on race.”

Kaplan again tried to end the exchange.

“I just wanted to make that clear,” Maynard responded to the chairman.

“He made himself very clear. He doesn’t need any help,” Kaplan said.

Zoom participants had difficulty hearing all of the speakers at the July 21 Macon-Bibb Board of Elections meeting. (Screenshot)

The hybrid in-person and Zoom meeting was marred by audio issues and an abrupt end to the teleconference 50 minutes into the meeting. The online participants signed back on and the meeting continued.

Several representatives of the local GOP were in attendance as the board was considering a request from the local party’s election integrity chair to do a hand count audit of three Bibb County precincts in the Georgia Secretary of State’s primary earlier this year.

Kaplan surmised the rationale was to verify Republican Brad Raffensperger won the primary without any election tampering. He mentioned the group VoterGA, which is calling for a complete audit of the 2020 election in the state’s 159 counties.

“VoterGA thinks Brad won and there’s no way he could have won without something going wrong. Period. I don’t agree with that. Not one bit,” Kaplan said. “And if I do this (audit), it’s not because of that. It’s because we have to restore your confidence. Period. Because it’s getting to the end of the road for a lot of people, those of us that are getting tired of it, of going on and on about this distrust.”

Mike Kaplan

Kaplan, who calls himself a “very big Independent,” said he’s tired of accusations from both parties. As an example, he later pointed to Democrat Stacey Abrams failing to concede to then-Secretary of State and Republican nominee Brian Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race.

The political intensity of recent years was a factor in the retirement of supervisor Jeanetta Watson early this year. The board’s executive assistant Charlene Maynard also will be leaving next week after serving about 20 years, Kaplan said. The search for a new supervisor has bogged down in a legal battle with the board and Mayor Lester Miller about who has the authority to choose a candidate for approval. Sumrall also later urged the board to drop the challenge to Miller’s plan to form a selection committee of board members and county commissioners.

The GOP leader encouraged the board to stay focused on the upcoming election and vowed to challenge any sign of Democrat partisanship in the process.

After the board discussed staffing concerns for the audit, interim supervisor Tom Gillon said the hand count could be done within a few days.

“Let’s just end it,” Kaplan said. “If we counted, everything’s perfect, are we done? Are y’all going to be happy and stop? I don’t know.”

The board voted 3-1 in favor of the audit with Maynard voting no. The other Democrat representative Karen Evans-Daniel was not in attendance.

During public comments at the conclusion of the meeting, the Bibb GOP’s election integrity chair explained the rationale for the audit of the Howard 1, Hazard 4 and Warrior 1 precincts.

“To ensure integrity within a race since the secretary of state ran his own race. It probably should have been done in 2018, as well… ,” Amanda Prettyman said before she was cut off in mid-sentence.

“No, no, no,” Maynard said.

Macon-Bibb Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who was on the Zoom call, also interjected: “Mr. Chair, that is totally inappropriate.”

Kaplan chided Lucas for speaking out when she was not recognized, and Prettyman continued.

“The other reason is that the Halderman report on the Dominion machines identified nine vulnerabilities that are really failures, and we want to ensure the accuracy of the count,” she said.

Prettyman, who also spoke at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, mentioned Judge Amy Totenberg’s October ruling that the QR codes the machines use to tally votes violate Georgia law. Although the voters can read the printout showing the candidates they selected, the QR code is a mystery.

“So the voter can’t verify what their ballot says with what the machine’s reading. And so, we’re concerned about that,” Prettyman said. “There’s not trust in the machines right now and that is why we asked for it. And come November, should Democrats not trust it, I will fully support their request for a hand count as well.”

Former congressional candidate, Democrat Lindsay Holliday also expressed concerns about the codes.

“I’ve mistrusted the computer counters since ’01,” Holliday said. “I wish they would print out plain English. Certainly, the computers can read plain English, so we don’t need a QR code.”

The hand count audit of the three precincts is set to be completed by Sept. 1

MWA special election and feeling the heat

The board of elections also set the date for the Special Election for Macon Water Authority District 2 to replace Desmond D. Brown, who left office this year to launch an unsuccessful bid for MWA chairman.

Qualifying is expected to run Aug. 1 – 3 with the election falling on Nov. 8.

When Kaplan asked whether the board bills the authority for the cost, Gillon responded: “Because it’s part of the November General election there shouldn’t be an additional cost.”

The board also learned the precinct at the Boys & Girls Club on Shurling Drive has no air conditioning or heat and is looking for $35,000 for a new HVAC system.

Kaplan noted the board doesn’t have that kind of money and motioned to Macon-Bibb Commissioner Valerie Wynn, who was attending the meeting with the GOP representatives, to check with the county or the school system to air condition the facility.

Commissioner Lucas later scolded the board that they needed to see about that themselves.

“As a board, y’all don’t need to leave that lingering,” she said. “November is right around the corner.”

Macon-Bibb County’s voting equipment is currently being stored in the old Macy’s location at Macon Mall, which is not currently climate controlled. (Liz Fabian)

The board is also searching for a new place to store the voting equipment, which has dramatically increased with the new electronic voting system. The current location in the old Macy’s store at Macon Mall is not air conditioned and the staff has been sweltering in the heat.

“We’ve got to find a way to secure these machines in an environment that is not 100 degrees,” Kaplan said.

The board also acknowledged a 2020 primary runoff absentee ballot snafu where a voter failed to get a ballot sent to a temporary address, as requested, and was not able to vote.

“This was a mistake and we owned up to it,” board attorney William Noland said.

The case was referred to the attorney general and the board will be reprimanded and fined a civil penalty of $500.

“Obviously, that is a relatively minor penalty because it was a relatively minor infraction,” Noland said.

A formal reprimand will be read at the State Elections Board, but no one from Bibb County is compelled to be present.

“It’s a minor, minor infraction. Because that person didn’t get to vote, it’s a bad infraction, “Kaplan said.

Noland also plans to file a motion on Bibb County’s behalf to dismiss a challenge calling for the statewide audit of the 2020 election.

During public comments, Carlos Jackson, who was attending the meeting, asked why Bibb would not want to participate in a statewide audit.

“I want to make sure all the voters in Bibb County are being heard because there’s a lot of distrust in these machines that we’re using and not being able to audit these votes is causing a problem,” Jackson said.

Lucas also wasn’t pleased that some of the comments were difficult to hear when speakers were away from the microphone.

“I’m concerned that it looks like that there are some of that ugly stuff that we’ve been trying to avoid is slowly creeping into Macon-Bibb County,” Lucas said. “It disturbs me that somebody thinks that you can tell the party affiliation by looking at the race of the person.”

Kaplan apologized for the technical issues and pledged to have state-of-the-art facilities for Zoom meetings once the office moves to Macon Mall early next year.

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