Elections office gearing up for more than normal municipal elections

Polk County Elections Director Brande Coggins performs logic and accuracy testing on one of the ballot scanners that will be used in the Nov. 2 elections.

A week-long process recently kept Brande Coggins and her elections coordinator in the county’s storage area every day surrounded by touchpads, ballot scanners and computers.

Logic and accuracy testing is done by each county elections office in the state prior to each year’s first election. It’s a time-consuming process, especially when small counties like Polk end up testing all of its equipment.

The Polk County elections director was hoping to see her first election in the role be a subdued and simple one. Instead, her office has been in high gear for November’s general municipal election that has gone from involving just three precincts to all seven and includes a number of special referendums on which voters will decide.

Early voting for the Nov. 2 Polk County election starts Tuesday, Oct. 12 during the week through Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at both the Polk County Administration Annex in Cedartown and the Rockmart Community Center.

Saturday voting will be available at the Polk County Administration Annex on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday voting will only be available at the Rockmart Community Center on Oct. 23 because of a scheduling conflict. It will also be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Coggins started with the Polk County Elections Office in September 2019 as elections coordinator working under then director LeeAnn George. When George stepped down in June for personal reasons, Coggins was named interim director before taking the role fully in late July.

A previous plan was for the county’s board of elections and elections office to use the normally low-turnout municipal elections this year to reorganize and restructure how they did things following the 2020 election cycle.

“It was a chaotic time, and we wanted to take the opportunity to really reflect on how we can make this even better for our voters,” Coggins said. “As important as the municipal elections are, we also realized that it’s a lower volume. So we were taking advantage of having a kind of practice run, if you will, before 2022.”

When the Polk School District Board of Education decided to move forward with a referendum to continue the current education special purpose, local option sales tax collection, Coggins worked with the school system to expand the original three-precinct election into a county-wide one.

That resulted in any new initiatives being put on hold until after this election.

“We’re going to seven precincts, and you’re talking about a lot more employees that you have to recruit for election day,” Coggins said. “So, we are at a point now where we’re almost done testing. We’ve got our plans in order for election day. So now we can shift focus and go back to planning for 2022.”

Coggins said the state of elections in Georgia is evolving, with everything from equipment, staffing and regulations being re-examined on a yearly basis and changes being made to each. She hired Ansley Bray as her elections coordinator and the office’s only other full-time employee.

Among the more public changes to this year’s election is the sweeping elections reform bill SB 202 that was approved in the General Assembly earlier this year and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Coggins said her office has worked to make sure it is in compliance with all of the provisions in the bill, including having the county’s only absentee ballot dropbox located inside the county annex building on West Avenue and under 24-hour surveillance.

“It is a very lengthy bill, and it does affect us more so for payroll requirements and timelines. Everything else is more at the state level, but it is a very interesting read because it does continue to push this evolution of elections,” Coggins said.

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