Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger visited Jekyll Island this week to speak at a conference of elections officials.
Elections officials from all over the state flocked to the Institute of Voter Registrars of Georgia’s 50th conference and the Georgia Election Officials Associations’ 34th, both of which started Sunday and will continue through Wednesday in the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
Raffensperger spoke to the assembled officials about new elections legislation.
“As many of you know, recently we just passed House Bill 316, which is the new voting machine bill, and in it, we had several pieces of legislation that we think moves Georgia forward and we think it’s a very positive development for all of us,” Raffensperger said.
All voting systems in the state now require a printed ballot component, which creates a paper trail and allows elections officials to perform more accurate recounts, Raffensperger said.
Assistant Elections Director Kevin Rayburn then gave a rundown of the bill. Half of it dealt with voting machines, he said, but included many other changes to elections law.
Local boards of elections must now advertise precinct changes much further in advance and cannot close or move polling places with 60 days of a general, primary or runoff election and 30 days of a special election, Rayburn said.
The bill also loosened restrictions on early voting polling place locations and simplified absentee ballot forms, Rayburn explained, while amending the list of those who can help disabled and illiterate voters cast a ballot and further restricting the people who may deliver an absentee ballot for someone else.
It also reduced the margin to trigger a recount from one percent difference between two candidates to half a percent, among other things.
Three voting machine vendors showed off their offerings in the convention center’s lobby: Dominion Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic and Electronic Systems and Software, the state’s current voting machine provider.
All three vendors offered similar systems, each involving a touchscreen similar to currently-used voting machines. However, each touchscreen machine included either a built-in printer or connected to one via a cord, which printed the voter’s chosen candidate onto a slip of paper.
The paper ballot is then taken to a scanner where the vote is finally counted.
Using Hart’s system, not much would change for voters, said Dwayne Broxton of Hart InterCivic. Poll workers will still verify voters’ identities using a poll book. Instead of a yellow card with a chip, they’ll get a code to access the touchscreen vote counting machine.
“Electronic pollbooks do have the functionality of being connected to the internet, (but) the voting system never at any point is connected to the internet, it doesn’t even have the internal hardware to connect,” Broxton said.
Once they access the machine, they’ll pick their candidates. Voters are given multiple opportunities to check over their ballot before printing the results on paper. They can once again check over their printed ballot, Broxton said, before starting over or running it through a scanner.
“Our scanners read this ballot the same way you and I do. With optical character recognition, OCR, we are reading the plain text on the page,” Broxton said.
Broxton then demonstrated the scanner’s ability to detect any attempts to alter the ballot, explaining that it would only accept a new, original ballot produced by a machine assigned to the same polling place as the scanner.
What sets Hart’s machines apart is a system by which poll workers can monitor individual machines from a device called a Verity Controller, which lets them know when machines are turned on or off and whether or not they’re in use. As with the rest of the system, the controllers are also completely offline, Broxton added, but can be integrated with pollbooks.
Voters can also request help from a poll worker from the voting machine with the press of a button. The controller will let the poll worker know a voter needs assistance and which machine the voter is using, Broxton explained.
Election Systems and Software’s system was much the same as Hart’s. Instead of using a code to access the ballot-casting machine, Sales Manager Jeb Cameron said voters are given a narrow slip of paper with their identifying information on it.
Voters take the slip and insert it into the ballot casting machine, Cameron said, which reads their information and displays the appropriate races. Once a voter has chosen their candidates, the machine prints out the results in plain text and in bar code format.
ES&S’ scanner records the information in the barcode, while elections officials can read the plain text on the ballot when performing an audit or recount, Cameron explained.
Dominion Voting’s system would allow local elections officials to reuse pollbooks while providing most of the same features as the other two.
Hardware Production Specialist Mitch Keddrell said Dominion’s software can interface with current ES&S pollbook equipment used by Georgia counties. In addition, ballots are printed from a standard HP printer onto card stock.
“It’s standard card stock. You can get it for a regular printer, you don’t have to buy a little pre-cut card,” Keddrell explained.
Dominion’s system also used a non-proprietary tablet for its touchscreen vote-casting machine. In similar fashion to the others, a printed ballot is then scanned and automatically deposited into a locked box.
Chris Channell, interim elections and registration supervisor for Glynn County, said ES&S voting machines are favored in the capitol. He personally likes the machines as well due to his past experience with them. Continuing to use ES&S products would also present voters with the least amount of change, he said.
“This is the exact same system used in Leavenworth County, (Kan.),” Channell said.
Based on how the state plans to allocate resources, Channell said Glynn County could get as many as 217 new voting machines, a step up from the 180 it currently has. How many the county ultimately receives is subject to what the state has to pay for them, he added.
Local board of elections member Tommy Clark said he preferred ES&S’ machines due to their simplicity.
“I like it because more than anything else it simplifies trying to explain the process to the voting public,” Clark said.
The state is still in the purchasing process and will begin meeting with voting machine manufacturers in bid meetings this week, according to Keddrell.
It is a classic line from a 1980s movie, but a somewhat cryptic message for the marquee out in front of the former Dairy Queen building on St. Simons Island.
“Stay Gold Ponyboy,” the sign read Monday at 501 Mallery St., an obvious reference to the climactic quote from 1983’s “The Outsiders.”
“Somebody messed up and gave Southern Soul a letter board,” joked Griffin Bufkin, co-owner of the famous island barbecue joint. “So we’re just having some fun with it.”
Translated, this means that burgers, fries and shakes will soon be served again at the building that housed a Dairy Queen for years and a Tastee-Freez for still more years before that. Frosty’s Griddle and Shake is a new venture for Bufkin and partner Harrison Sapp, whose rustic restaurant in the roundabout has put St. Simons Island on the national barbecue map for all things ribs, chicken and brisket.
Frosty’s could be open as early as May, featuring hamburgers, fries, milkshakes and the like, Bufkin said. The new burger joint’s name is a nod to the late Forrest “Frosty” Barefoot, Bufkin and Sapp’s beloved former landlord at Southern Soul Barbeque, 2020 Demere Road. The pair recently picked up the lease on the old Dairy Queen, which closed in 2018 after years of serving old school burger-joint fare to loyal customers. A Tastee Freez occupied the site just up the road from the Pier Village shopping district for years before that.
“We’re going to go in and do a small-town classic burger joint,” Bufkin said. “Cheese burgers, chili dogs, onion rings, soft-serve ice cream and shakes. Basically, we’re taking it back to the Tastee Freez.”
Spearheading this new venture will be Southern Soul Chef John Helfrich, who is working on a menu that will might also include a shrimp basket, fried chicken and corndogs, Bufkin said. With an eclectic soundtrack and maybe some pinball and Mrs. Pacman machines in the mix, Frosty’s hopes to cater to everyone from the afternoon youth sports crowd to the after hours grownup crew, he said.
“We’re going to have fun with it,” he said. “We’re going to host birthday parties, sponsor a team at the (Mallery Park) ball fields and have ice cream after the games. And we’re going to try to stay open late too.”
In the meantime, Southern Soul’s big red food truck will be serving out front, Tuesdays through Saturdays, while renovations on the building continue. And, of course, keep your eyes peeled for more mysterious messages on the marquee. Previous entries have included burger-centric references such as, “Mind If I Have Some of Your Tasty Beverage to Wash This Down With,” a Samuel L. Jackson quote from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Also, there was, “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard,” a line from the Kelis hip-hop song, Milkshake.
“That’s what happens when you give the Southern Soul boys a letter board,” Bufkin said. “But the key words are, classic small-town burger.”
Glynn County’s finance committee is expected to consider recommending the county spend $300,000 on a North Harrington Road drainage project at its meeting today.
The project would be funded by revenue from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2016, $400,000 of which was set aside for the project.
In a memo, county Public Works Director Dave Austin request $296,000 for the project.
“The North Harrington roadside ditch adjacent to Admirals Retreat (subdivision) has historically been a clear zone and safety hazard. In addition, the underground drainage system is drastically undersized near Southern Oaks subdivision. In order to address these long-standing issues, the Glynn County (Commission) included this project on the SPLOST 2016 program,” Austin’s memo states.
Repairs to a collapsed culvert under North Harrington will also be included in the project.
“During project development it was also determined that a culvert underneath North Harrington Road near Serenity Lane had failed, creating a large sinkhole,” according to the memo.
County contractors are currently working on multiple major road and drainage projects on St. Simons Island, some of which have significantly obstructed traffic. The memo makes no mention of potential road closures or traffic management.
The committee is also expected to hear a request from Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump to transfer $280,000 from the Glynn County Detention Center’s commissary fund to cover an increase in medical costs for inmates.
In other business, the committee is expected to consider recommending $99,484 for audio and video upgrades to the Glynn County Courthouse, $16,505 to replace sun shades around the Neptune Park Fun Zone pool, $125,000 to clean and repair the drainage systems in five areas, and $24,950 to install laptop computers in police cruisers, among other things.
The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. today on the second floor of the Harold Pate Building, 1725 Reynolds St. in Brunswick.
The portion of House Bill 445 that included an exemption for the Sea Island spit was removed from the bill on Monday.
Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, said Monday that a substitute bill was offered to the Senate Rules Committee and was unanimously adopted by the committee. The substitute bill did not include the exemption language regarding the Sea Island spit, a portion of beach-front land below the Cloister Hotel.
H.B. 445, sponsored by Rep. Don Hogan (R-St. Simons), aims to amend the Shore Protection Act by proposing changes to how the state regulates private property near the beach.
The bill would reduce the Shore Protection Act’s jurisdictional area to 25 feet, clarifies the definition of a dynamic dune field, allows for “minor activities” to go through a truncated approval process. Before the substitute bill’s adoption on Monday, H.B. 445 basically exempted Sea Island from the act altogether.
“It has been a concern all along, and even last week we’d been working on some amendments and a substitute bill,” Ligon said. “And under our rules, this is the first day that a bill could be amended that’s been moved to the Rules Committee.”
The Rules Committee establishes which bills go to the Senate floor, and that decision is still pending. Ligon said he is not sure the bill will make it out of the current session.
The Brunswick News reported Saturday that Sea Island requested and received special treatment for H.B. 445. Department of Natural Resources staff said the bill’s language crafting process was standard operating procedure.
The Sea Island Company previously fought in court to construct a second rock groin and sand dune on the spit to protect property from rising sea levels. Multi-million dollar housing developments are planned for that area.
Language in the former version of H.B. 445, in lines 84-89, pertained directly to the Sea Island spit and made it easier to built in that area.
Hogan had defended the inclusion of this carve-out language during a committee hearing earlier in the session, saying St. Simons benefited from the beach renourishment that has taken place in that portion of Sea Island.
Four days remain in this year’s legislative session. H.B. 445 must pass the senate before Gov. Brian Kemp can sign it into law.
Frederica Academy’s new head of school will officially take charge July 1.
Scott Hutchinson has been selected to fill the position by the school’s search committee, following a nationwide search that began over a year ago.
“He really personifies all the things that we are looking for in a head of school,” said Greer Brown, who served as chairman of the search committee.
Hutchinson has extensive and diverse experience working with independent schools. For nearly 40 years, he has taught, coached and served in leadership positions in schools around the country.
He’s excited to return to the South, Hutchinson said Friday. He plans to move to the Golden Isles with his wife, and his daughter will begin her freshman year of college this fall.
“I was looking for a school community that provided a valuable service to the area, and when I went to see Frederica, I was impressed so much with how loyal the parent body was and the faculty was,” Hutchinson said. “The school is doing important work in the community, and it’s something I would like to be a part of.”
Hutchinson graduated from Duke University. After graduation, he accepted a position teaching at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina, before earning a master’s degree in counseling from the College of William and Mary. After graduate school, Mr. Hutchinson returned to North Carolina to teach at Durham Academy.
Hutchinson has held administrator positions at Brookstone School in Columbus, Fort Worth Country Day, Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston, Tex., Brentwood School in Los Angeles, Calif., and the Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn.
He has served as the head of school at Renbrook School in West Hartford, Conn., since 2015.
“We wanted experience, both in the classroom and as an administrator,” Greer said.
The search committee surveyed parents, teachers and administrators and other members of the school’s community, asking what they’d like to see in the school’s next leader, before beginning a search that brought in about 150 applications and took more than 18 months to complete.
“Frederica Academy has what we consider to be a high standard for education, for both the faculty and the students, and we needed someone who stood out in that respect,” Greer said.
Jay St. John currently serves at the interim head of school at Frederica Academy.
Ellen Fleming has also served in that role, after the previous head of school John Thomas resigned in 2017.
Hutchinson said he’s looking forward to taking part in what’s to come for Frederica Academy.
“When I came to see Frederica, I was so heartened by how excited people were by the prospect of the future of the school, and I’m excited to come down there,” he said. “I just want to be worthy of their anticipation. I think the best years of Frederica are ahead of it, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”