The cost — which has not been defined as of yet — to replace voting machines across the state is considered to be the largest purchase of its type in the nation’s history. Georgia’s considerably closer to that point after the state Senate gave House Bill 316 its approval, 35-21, following three hours of intense debate.
“Our current system is 17 years old, and we now have the opportunity to choose to update our voting machines by using new technology — the technology of today, built upon the experiences of the past,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, who carried the bill in the Senate.
He said the legislation, with the update, brings common-sense reform and straight-forward solutions, including the new touchscreen marked-paper ballot system.
“Touchscreen ballot markers leave absolutely no room for doubt of voter intent, since voters make a clear choice with a touch of a button,” Ligon said. “Reverting back to any other form of voting system — including pencil-marked paper ballots — could easily force our state into a hanging chad situation that Florida experienced in the 2000 election.
“With a pencil-marked ballot, election officials, attorneys and partisan vote reviewers have to interpret stray and accidental pencil marks on improperly completed ballots, meaning that the voter may have their vote counted incorrectly or completely invalidated.”
The bill is favored by the governor and legislative Republican leadership, though generally opposed by Democrats and even some Republicans — notably the conservative group FreedomWorks — because of a number of factors that include possible corruption, undefined cost to the state and localities, problems with auditing and unreliability of the machines themselves. Opponents frequently point to hand-marked paper ballots as the preferred alternative.
“The audit language itself in this bill is extremely weak,” state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said. “It doesn’t require any risk-limiting audits, except for the pilot program, which is in one county. It doesn’t require them after that. So, all this talk about audits — not only can you not even do them with these machines, the bill doesn’t even say we’re going to have them anyway. What a joke. The pre-certification audit isn’t even a risk-limiting audit in this bill — it’s a tabulation audit, and there is a difference. Shame on any of you who have not bothered to ask that question.”
She said that when people go in-depth into the language of the bill, all manner of open questions surface.
“Why on earth would we buy less-secure machines that are opposed by the voters, opposed by national security experts, at risk of being decertified right now in New York, are far more expensive than the hand-marked paper ballots, are possibly going to be decertified by the national election authorities within 2-4 years, when we’re spending, taking out a 20-year bond,” Parent said. “You start saying, ‘Why on earth would we buy these things?’
“I have been baffled, absolutely baffled. This is not a partisan issue — you don’t do voting machines on a party-line vote. This is crazy. And so I’m like, what is going on here? I’ve been given absolutely no good reason why we should buy these things. There’s not one good reason. So therefore, it just reeks of corruption — that we’re prioritizing vendors over voters.”
Senators also questioned part of the bill that allows the secretary of state to become a member of a nongovernmental entity and share voter information with that entity with the intent of making sure the lists are accurate.
State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, brought up her 2015 class-action lawsuit filed when the Secretary of State’s Office, then presided over by current Gov. Brian Kemp, suffered a data breach resulting in the release of information on the state’s voters including their full name, address, date-of-birth and driver’s license number.
“This is what we know, what we know is, the secretary of state takes all of our personal information — social security, date-of-birth, all of that information I was talking about — transfers it over state lines to a database that is then controlled by these systems, (Electronic Registration Information Center) or the (Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program),” Jordan said. “We have absolutely no control over that information, and then that information goes to the various state partners. Again, who we have no control over.”
Then there’s the issue that Kemp’s deputy chief of staff, Chuck Harper, remains on state records as a lobbyist for Elections Systems & Software, the preferred vendor at this point, should the bill pass as expected.
The Governor’s Office said Harper’s not renewing his lobbyist registration this year and it will pass into status as inactive or terminated. Also, Kemp’s chief of staff when he was secretary of state — and his present executive counsel — David Dove, went to a called a ES&S conference in Las Vegas in March 2017 when Georgia was in the market, as now, for a statewide voting machine overhaul.
Senate Democratic Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, pounded the drum that state law and Senate rules demand a fiscal impact statement accompany this bill. There’s $150 million budgeted, but no certainty as to the final cost. Indeed, Tuesday, Georgia Public Broadcasting obtained unredacted copies of documents sent by potential vendors to the Secretary of State’s Office that were previously unavailable.
State Sen. P.K. Martin IV, R-Lawrenceville, objected to the reasoning behind hand-marked paper ballots, in that it only took a pen to “hack” them, whereas these machines would be safe.
“You know, our current system is in a non-connected environment — it’s not connected to the internet,” Martin said. “The ballot-marking devices proposed will be in that same non-connected environment. … Due to that fact, it would be almost impossible, with technology and the coordination required, to hack these devices — to be able to go in and physically open up devices, to try to gain connectivity to each device. It would be almost impossible to do this when they’re in a non-connected environment.”
In closing out the debate, Ligon said the state took a dramatic step forward with new systems following the 2000 elections, going from 48th in the country in overvotes and undervotes to third. Going back, he said, would be a mistake.
“Yes, there are concerns about the system being hacked, or you don’t know how you voted, but the fact is, and it’s undisputed, the scanner for a touchscreen ballot, which clearly prints out the persons that you voted for is scanned the same way as a ballot for a pen (or) pencil is scanned,” Ligon said. “The same processes are used.”
He added that with the system favored by the state, the state would pick up the bulk of the cost for the machines and the cost to counties would be much less.
Ligon closed with, “Let’s secure our voting for the people of the state of Georgia, and let’s give them a system that’s secure and reliable and that they’ll have the confidence to know that their vote.”
H.B. 316 heads back to the House for concurrence.
Sam Rumph wore sandals, shorts and a Grateful Dead T-shirt while BB&T Market President Lance Turpin looked every bit the part, dressed smartly in loafers, creased slacks, button-down shirt and tie.
Together, they looked about as compatible as a dolphin awash in discarded beer cans. Actually, the two men represented nicely the cross-section of folks who turned out Wednesday to pick up other people’s trash at St. Simons Island’s Neptune Park.
The cleanup effort, sponsored by Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, concluded with Rumph and Turpin presiding over the dedication of the park’s new sculpture piece, which drives home the fact that our litter and nature’s marine life do not mix. About 75 folks gathered for the installation of the wire-mesh dolphin, which was filled with recyclable litter that volunteers had just removed from the park.
Rumph, a manager at the Starbucks on St. Simons Island, helped acquire the piece through his regular volunteer work on litter patrols in the community. The coffee chain has a program that matches money toward employees’ volunteer efforts within their communities. BB&T also sponsored the purchase of the sculpture, as did several individual donors.
“Thank y’all,” Rumph told the crowd. “It’s really about y’all making this neighborhood and this planet a better place than when you got here.”
That summed up the attitude of those who joined the cleanup effort, the fifth installment in KGIB’s annual Marsh Madness program. Volunteers of all ages fanned out across the county park, filling garbage bags with the stuff others could not be bothered to put in a trash can.
“I hate litter,” said volunteer Peg Shorey. So does her husband, Nick. For years, he has taken it upon himself to combat litter along Lawrence Road on St. Simons Island’s north end. The couple pitches in often at KGIB events, including the Marsh Madness cleanup off Gascoigne Park on the island earlier this month.
“We’ve been picking up litter for years,” she said. “This today is a piece of cake, compared to Gascoigne. We were really in the muck at that one.”
Sophia Mendez was among several youngsters from the island Boys and Girls Club who skipped across the oceanfront’s Johnson rocks to get at plastic bags, bottles and other trash. She was patient with the adult who asked why picking up litter near the ocean is important.
“I think it’s important because there’s animals in the ocean,” said Sophia, 10. “And people throw out this trash and the animals eat it and they die. All life is valuable. I encourage people to come down here and do this with their free time – even if there’s no prize at the end.”
Lea King-Badyna could not have said it better herself. The executive director of KGIB said that is the point of the unique sculpture that now sits atop a pole at the park. It is the last of six sculptures KGIB has installed at parks on the island and mainland to emphasize the importance of keeping litter out of the ecosystem. The others include a Right whale at Coast Guard Beach, a manatee at Overlook Park, a pelican at Mary Ross Waterfront Park, a blue heron at North Glynn Recreational Complex and a shrimp at Blythe Island Regional Park. All six sculptures were created by Myrtle Beach, S.C., artist Jim Swain, who attended the dedication.
The Marsh Madness events are held in conjunction with similar Keep America Beautiful cleanup efforts nationwide. “Give yourselves a hand for coming out and picking up after others,” King-Badyna told the volunteers, who filled dozens of trash bags. “You have joined volunteers from across America to help keep our environment clean and green.”
So far, about 200 people have volunteered toward this year’s Marsh Madness cleanups, King-Badyna said. Volunteers are welcome to join the six remaining Marsh Madness events, including a cleanup Friday of the Jekyll Island side of the Sidney Lanier Bridge and a cleanup Saturday of the south side of the Turtle River Bridge. For more information, call 912-279-1490, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was a time when Rumph never thought about where his cigarette butts would go when he flicked them onto the ground. A coworker pointed out to Rumph several years ago that his butts end up going down the drain and into the ocean and local waterways, wreaking havoc on marine life. He quit smoking, then he started picking up other people’s cigarette butts. He has since earned several thousand dollars toward local environmental causes through Starbuck’s program of matching money to employee’s volunteer hours.
“Picking up trash just seemed like the right thing to do,” Rumph said. “I’m just trying to make a difference, and maybe inspire others to as well.”
Saying “yes” to an opportunity can often be the first step to success.
Five new graduates from the hospitality certification program, offered by Goodwill of Southeast Georgia at the Job Connection Center in Brunswick, seized their opportunity several weeks ago by signing up for the program. They graduated Tuesday at a ceremony hosted for friends and family at the Westin on Jekyll Island.
By completing the course, the graduates earned hospitality industry certification, and each were able to interview for positions at the Westin.
“We often underestimate what an opportunity can do for us in life,” said Destiny Hollins, one of the graduates. “If we just take the right chance at the right time, we can do a lot.”
The free, three-week program covers the basics of the hospitality industry and includes soft skills education and local networking opportunities through partnerships with local hotels. Classes meet Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“You made a commitment for three weeks. Not a lot of people can do that,” said Paul Hartmann, director of rooms at the Westin. “So if told me, going into an interview, you committed to something for three weeks, you’re a step above a lot of people ... So be proud of your certificate. Be proud of your commitment. Show it off, and put it on your résumé.”
Goodwill partnered closely with the Westin to provide opportunities for the course participants, who had a chance not only to interview for positions at the Westin but also to tour the hotel and job shadow employees.
The graduates each thanked Goodwill for the opportunity to take the course, and they especially showed gratitude for the course’s instructor, Teona Chaduneli.
Chaduneli said she hopes they see a return on their investment.
“You all chose Goodwill to bring you one step closer to your ultimate goal, to give you tools you need for a better future,” she said.
The program is one of many career development services offered at the Goodwill Job Connection Center, located at 249 Village at Glynn Place. The center also offers a job placement program, GED classes, as well as help with résumés and interviewing skills.
The services are supported by donations made to the Goodwill store. The hospitality course, which began in Brunswick about a year ago, offers participants support as they enter the hospitality industry.
“This course is the groundwork for a better future for us, for our careers, for our families,” Hollins said.
Those interested in the program can email Chaduneli at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series profiling the members of the Islands Planning and Mainland Planning commissions.
Compared to the eight years he spent on the Glynn County Commission, Richard Strickland ought to have no problem serving on the Mainland Planning Commission.
“I was a county commissioner for eight years. I was elected to two terms to serve District 3, and during those eight years I was chairman for two years,” Strickland said. “... I don’t think there’s been a week gone by that I haven’t told my wife ‘I can do this planning commissioner stuff standing on my head after all the meetings and all the events and all the work sessions I went to as a county commissioner.’ After all that, to do only one meeting a month, I have no regrets at all about being on the planning commission.”
County Commissioner Bill Brunson appointed Strickland in January to a four-year term on the planning commission, which Strickland said he’s already got experience dealing with.
“I had occasion to deal with the Islands and Mainland planning commissions during those eight years,” Strickland said. “I fully understand what the duties and responsibilities of planning commissions are, and I figured it would be a way I could continue to serve the community.”
Strickland moved to Glynn County in the 1970s while serving in the U.S. Navy, taking the role of air traffic control instructor with the technical training center at Naval Air Station Glynco. He continued in that role for four years before taking a job with the Glynn County Police Department.
He retired as Glynn County Emergency Management Agency director in 2008 after working his way up through the ranks for 30 years.
“I see the planning commission as an extension of the Community Development Department. I think we have a very capable and knowledgable staff headed by (department Director) Pam Thompson. We’re there to stimulate growth in Glynn County, and at the same time make sure it’s manageable and sustainable,” Strickland said. “As one of my fellow commissioners pointed out, we have a lot of vacant buildings. We don’t need to be building just to build additional buildings. So we need to make sure we approve growth that’s going to be sustainable over the long run.”
The MPC’s ultimate goal should be to facilitate growth in the county, he explained.
“We need to make sure we do everything we can to stimulate economic development and growth in Glynn County,” Strickland said. “I don’t want to be repetitious because I think my fellow planning commissioners, both Islands and Mainland, have pointed out the county commission appropriated funds so the ordinance dealing with zoning will mesh well with the new comprehensive plan, so I think it’s important the Islands and Mainland Planning Commission have a part in that.”
Strickland said that its important that the new zoning ordinance doesn’t infringe on private property rights.
“That’s so important. Some people think this is how it should be done, but you have to keep in mind the consequences of the ordinances and that they can, at times, have an adverse impact on the community,” Strickland said. “Some of those have been in effect for decades, and they need to be revised or updated and need to be where they’re clearly understood. They need to be user-friendly to the people who need to know what’s in those ordinances. I think that’s where the Islands and Mainland planning commissions can play an integral part in that, working with the consultant that’s been hired and the staff to get the best possible ordinance out of this.”
Some of his peers have expressed a desire to amend the planning commissions’ bylaws, but Strickland said they seem straightforward enough to him.
“I know that the (MPC) chairman and a couple of the island commissioners have said they’d like to rewrite the bylaws,” Strickland said. “But I’d read the bylaws as a county commissioner and I’ve read the bylaws as a planning commissioner, and I’m sure there could be some changes made, but there are only four pages, and they pretty much lay out everything the planning commissioners need to know. But there’s always a better way of doing something, so I’ll wait and see.
He also had a word of advice for his fellow planning commissioners.
“I think it’s important for the commissions — whether it’s Islands or Mainland planning commission — to remember it’s their job to make recommendations to the (county commission). (It) has final authority to make any decisions about what takes place,” Strickland said. “Our opinions and our own agenda don’t matter. What matters is that we follow the ordinances and the regulations and that’s what we go by.”
“I’d like to thank Commissioner (Bill) Brunson for appointing me, and I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners in the coming years.”