Gwinnett County police said William Jerome Adams, a man wanted in a double homicide in unincorporated Flowery Branch, was arrested in Texas last week while trying to cross the border from the U.S. into Mexico.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Suspect in double murder of mother and her teenage son arrested at U.S.-Mexico border, Gwinett police say
Gwinnett County police said a man wanted in a double homicide in unincorporated Flowery Branch was arrested in Texas this week while trying to cross the border from the U.S. into Mexico.
William Jerome Adams, 24, was arrested in Texas and police intend to have him extradited back to Georgia so he can be prosecuted. Adams is accused of fatally shooting Mary Lindsay, 39, and her son, Atif Muhammad, 16, in a residence on Apple Grove Road on Friday.
Police previously said they believe Adams had been in a relationship with Lindsay.
- From staff reports
Law enforcement officials have not yet said why Lindsay and her son may have been killed.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call detectives
at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment. Tipsters should reference case No. 21-023352.
Georgia House of Representatives rejects Gwinnett bills dealing with elections board, chairwoman's salary
Bills that would have reformed the Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections, as well as given county commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson a raise, were defeated in Georgia House of Representatives last week after they were put on a Gwinnett-specific local calendar.
The rejection of the bill to reconstitute the elections board, to give local elected officials a say in who sits on the board, means the board’s format will likely remain as is until at least the 2023 legislative session, said state Rep. Sam Park, who authored the bill and is the Gwinnett Legislative Delegation’s chairman. The rejection, on a 97-70 party line vote on March 22, is significant because it came during a legislative session where the GOP-controlled Georgia General Assembly passed elections board reconstitution bills in several Republican-leaning counties.
It also came days before the General Assembly passed a controversial omnibus elections reform bill that, among other things, allows the legislature to take over local elections boards that legislators deem to be mismanaging their elections.
“It’s very disappointing and frustrating,” Park said. “I think the perfect word that comes to mind is hypocrisy.”
Under the format that had been proposed by Park’s elections board reconstitution bill, the Republican and Democratic parties in Gwinnett would have each submitted a slate of five nominees for consideration for seats on the board to county commissioners.
The Board of Commissioners would have then chosen two representatives from each party and had the ability to chose anyone they wanted, from any political party, to fill a fifth seat on the board.
The heads of the Gwinnett Republican and Democratic parties currently each get to appoint two members to the elections board and those four members chose a fifth member. Calls for changing that, however, began after the Daily Post reported that board Chairwoman Alice O’Lenick told members of the Gwinnett GOP in January that election laws in Georgia should be changed so Republicans “at least have a shot at winning.”
Park said the format was similar to one that the House approved this session for Pickens County, which former President Donald Trump won with 82% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.
Gwinnett, on the other hand, swung toward President Joe Biden in the election.
“Of course, these partisan takeovers of boards of elections were supported by Republican members of our (Gwinnett) delegation as well,” Park said. “But, yet when it came time to reconstitute the Gwinnett Board of Elections to ensure that there was more direct accountability of our board members to the people — instead of having political parties appoint them directly, have elected officials appoint them directly — not only was it rejected, they isolated all of our bills ... and they killed them.”
State Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said there were concerns about giving the county commission — which became made up entirely of Democrats after the 2020 elections — the ability to choose the fifth member of the elections board.
Allowing the commissioners to appoint a member of the elections board would make the elections board partisan, the Dacula lawmaker said.
“I’ve been very upfront with my concern that the Gwinnett County Elections Board currently picks its fifth member of the other four partisan members and the Democrat-led local delegation decided to change that in their proposal to reconstitute the elections board,” Efstration said.
“In their proposal, the fifth member would be designated by the county commission, which is currently comprised of all Democrat members. All five members are Democrats. My belief is that the elections board — any partisanship should be even. It should be a bipartisan collaborative effort to ensure that elections are accessible and voters are able to vote without issue.”
There is no standard format for the makeup of county elections boards in Georgia.
In Cobb County, for example, the political parties get one appointment to the elections board while the county commission chairwoman gets to appoint someone and the Cobb County legislative delegation gets to appoint two members.
In Clayton County, each district commissioner on the Board of Commissioners, as well as the chairman, gets to appoint a member of the elections board.
In Fulton County, the Board of Commissioners picks the elections board’s chairperson while the heads of the Republican and Democratic parties each pick two members.
In Dougherty County, the county commission, the city of Albany, the local Republican Party and the local Democratic Party each get one appointment and those members then chose a fifth member.
Meanwhile, the defeat of a bill to raise Hendrickson’s salary does not mean that issue is dead. Georgia law allows two methods for raising a commissioner’s salary: the legislature can do it, or the Board of Commissioners can vote to do it.
Efstration said there were concerns among some members of delegation that Hendrickson’s salary was being raised right after she took office.
“When she ran, she knew what the salary was and potential candidates may not have qualified because of knowing the salary (for the position),” Efstration said.
It is unclear where the decision to create a Gwinnett-specific local calendar was made, however. A local calendar is a collection of local legislation bills that put together for a single vote by a chamber in the General Assembly. These bills are designed to deal with an issue in a specific community with bills from multiple cities and counties normally put together on the same calendar.
“I’ve never seen them do that to a local delegation before,” Park said.
Efstration, who sits on the House Rules Committee, said that committee does not create local calendars that appear before the full House each legislative day and that it was his understanding Park wanted the bills grouped together.
Park, however, said he had requested the bills be moved to the next day’s local calendar so the Gwinnett bills could be voted on with legislation dealing with other counties, but was told that would not be possible.
Gwinnett’s legislative delegation was split along party lines in the vote on the county-specific local calendar.
Park, as well as Reps. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain; Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn; Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta; Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville; Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville; Marvin Lim, D-Norcross; Pedro Marin, D-Duluth; Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville; Donna McCleod, D-Lawrenceville; Rebecca Mitchell, D-Snellville; and Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners, voted in favor of the Gwinnett local calendar’s passage.
Efstration, as well as Reps. Tim Barr, R-Lawrenceville; Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee; and Tom Kirby, R-Loganville, voted against the calendar.
State Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, was labeled as a “No Vote” and Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, D-Lithonia, was excused from the vote.
Bill targeting Gwinnett, Fulton tax commissioners aims to stop practice of charging cities fees to supplement salaries
State legislators from both political parties moved this week to block Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter from charging cities that use her office for tax billing a fee that would supplement her salary.
The Georgia General Assembly passed an amendment to Senate Bill 201 on Wednesday — the final day of the 2021 legislative session — to take the responsibility of negotiating contracts with cities for tax billing from tax commissioners and hand it to county commissions in counties that have more than 14 cities. The specific language of the amendment means it applies to only Gwinnett and Fulton counties.
The amendment, which Sen. Nikki Merritt and Rep. Chuck Efstration worked on, was crafted after Gwinnett County Commissioner Kirkland Carden raised concerns about a new contract with higher fees that Porter was trying to negotiate with eight cities who use her office for tax billing. Carden said Porter, who makes just over $140,000 a year, had proposed a fee which would generate a $110,000 supplement to her salary.
“Many of us on both sides were hearing from our mayors, I got calls from constituents, I was getting emails from constituents concerned about their tax bills going up and the implications it would have on our cities,” Merritt said during a virtual discussion with Gwinnett high school Democrats on Thursday.
Although legislators passed the bill with the amendment, it isn’t official yet. The bill must be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp — who has the power to veto it if he choses to — before it can become law.
The cities of Berkeley Lake, Dacula, Grayson, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Peachtree Corners, Snellville and Sugar Hill use the county’s tax commissioner’s office to do their tax billing. They had a previous contract with the office that expired when Porter defeated former Tax Commissioner Richard Steele.
The new contract — which is the subject of ongoing negotiations — including a $1.80 per tax parcel fee that would go to the county as well as a $2 per parcel fee which would go to Porter.
Porter’s office said at the beginning of the week that three of the eight cities had verbally agreed to the contract, but declined to specify which cities they were since negotiations were still underway. At the time, Porter argued the proposed contract was not the “greedy pay raise” that it had been portrayed as.
“I am 100% satisfied with my salary and job, which is the Gwinnett County tax commissioner,” Porter said on Monday. “I did not run or agree to be the tax commissioner for any city. I question the morality of additional responsibility without additional compensation.”
Merritt said state law does allow tax commissioners to collect taxes for cities for a fee, and that Porter’s proposal was therefore not illegal.
The senator said the law was set up for smaller counties where a tax commissioner make far less than a tax commissioner in a county like Gwinnett or Fulton takes home in a year, however. In 2019, it was reported that Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand was using these fees collected from cities in his county to boost his compensation to about $490,000 a year.
“They were making $40,000, $50,000 (and) they could collect the extra fees from the cities as they were collecting their taxes,” Merritt said. “It’s an old law. The law really needed to be updated and changed for 2021 because what we found was happening, as in the case of Fulton County, and now we see in this instance, that law can be exploited in a way that can be abusive to cities and cost our tax payers more.”
Merritt’s district includes five of the eight cities that would have been affected. Those cities were Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Snellville, Grayson and Dacula.
Grayson’s fees for using Porter’s office, for example, would have increased by 486%, according to the senator. Elsewhere the increases would have been 80% in Dacula, 113% in Lilburn, 172% in Snellville
In order to accommodate that kind of an increase, Merritt said tax payers likely would have had to pay more in taxes.
“Having to impose more fees on our cities, it would hurt us and make us pay more,” she said.
Merritt said the amendment targeted Fulton and Gwinnett specifically because it would have been “too much, too soon” to try to apply it to other counties in the state that have existing contracts.
State Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, D-Snellville, said a bill was filed before the session ended, however, to address the issue on a statewide level. She expects there will be a long discussion on that legislation, which is House Bill 835.
“It is a bill that will take longer to implement because it will take more discussion, but I think we had nine signatories on 835 so far,” Mitchell said. “I’m hoping to see discussion on this next year so that we make sure we do this better for all of the counties because there are currently 48 or 49 counties who have a system set up and we really do need to revise it.”
Carden, who is the only member of the Board of Commissioners who has previous experience as a city councilman, praised the move and thanks legislators from both parties for working together on a bipartisan solution in a statement on Thursday.
“The provisions in SB201 that prevent the Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner from negotiating contracts with cities to personally pocket huge sums of additional taxpayer money are a win for transparent governance and Gwinnett’s residents,” Carden said in the statement.
“This bipartisan legislation brings an end to a loophole that allowed tax commissioners to use their public office for personal enrichment and financial gain. Now responsibility for city-county contract negotiations falls to the Board of Commissioners.”
Duluth police looking for suspect who used fake ID to steal $30,000 from Johns Creek woman's bank account
Duluth police are looking for a woman who used a fake ID to steal $30,000 from a personal bank account belonging to a Johns Creek woman.
Officer Ted Sadowski said that on March 9 the suspect used a fraudulent ID that had information belonging to the bank account’s owner on. The ID was presented to a teller at a branch of the victim’s bank, which a police report identified as the Chase Bank located at 2697 Old Peachtree Road in Duluth.
“The suspect was able to withdraw $30.000 in cash from the victim’s personal account without the victim’s knowledge or permission,” Sadowski said.
The suspect, who has not been identified, is facing one count of theft by taking.
The police report states the victim received an email from Chase Bank on March 8 that said a new debit card requested in her name had been issued and would be sent in the mail. The victim had not made the request for a new debit card, however, according to the report.
The victim called Chase Bank’s fraud department and, after explaining she did not make the request for a new card, a representative of the bank told her the card would not be produced or sent.
The representative told the victim no additional transactions had occurred on her account. The victim then checked her account online at about 1 p.m. on March 9 and noticed the cash withdrawal from her bank. She learned it happened at the branch on Old Peachtree Road when she called Chase about the withdrawal.
“She was upset and wanted an investigation completed and requested the help of Duluth Police Department,” Detective A. Iwamoto wrote in the report.
Anyone who has information on the theft, or the suspects whereabouts, is asked to Duluth police’s communications center at 770-476-4151 or Iwamoto at 678-957-7287 or email@example.com.
They should reference case No. 2021-00016199.
Gwinnett school board approves superintendent search ad; application period will last a month and a half
The advertisement for a new Gwinnett County Public Schools superintendent will show the county’s school board prefers to find someone who has experience leading a district that is similar to Georgia’s largest school system.
Board members approved the advertisement during a called meeting Thursday night. The Georgia School Boards Association is expected to post the advertisement soon and the application window is set to last until mid-May, according to a presentation that GSBA officials made to the board at the meeting.
“I think that this search is going to yield a tremendous number of candidates where we will have so many that we will be in the position of being able to chose awesome folks and ask really rigorous questions,” board Chairman Everton Blair said.
- By Curt Yeomans firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the only changes board members made to the proposed advertisement, however, was to drop a part that dealt with preferred experience.
It originally said the board wanted to hire someone who either had a proven record of success as a superintendent in a school system with “similar demographics and variables” to Gwinnett or someone with comparable chief executive officer experience in the private sector.
The change dropped the reference to comparable experience in the private sector, but left a proven track record of success as a superintendent in a district similar to Gwinnett as a preference.
“Now, that won’t preclude somebody who is a private sector CEO from applying,” Blair said. “It just removes the preferential consideration of that role.”
School board member Tarece Johnson said she favored making the part about having experience as a superintendent as a preference instead of a requirement in case there were assistant or associate superintendents who wanted to apply.
“Certainly a sitting superintendent would be preferred, but there may be some opportunities that we don’t know yet of someone else who may be certainly very talented as well,” Johnson said.
Blair said he was OK with making past experience as a superintendent a preference, but added he was personally leaning toward picking someone who has already been a superintendent.
“I actually do strongly prefer a superintendent who has sitting superintendent experience,” he told Johnson. “I treat all of this as kind of a composite or a conglomerate and so if there are candidates who have that, I’m going to chose those candidates.
“So, I hear what you’re saying about not wanting to leave people out of consideration and I just offer that, at the end of the day, we’re going to be making decisions on a sample that we don’t yet know. I’m comfortable about moving this to the ‘preferred’ (category) if the majority of us would support that, and I want us to recognize that it’s (probably not) going to change who I end up picking at the end of the day.”
- By Curt Yeomans email@example.com
The ad also states the board is looking for someone who understands instructional leadership and can show they have, in the past, put in place “research-based best practices in teaching and learning, curriculum, instructional administration, assessment, English learning and educational equity that promotes each student’s academic success and social and emotional well-being.”
A community input survey is expected to be made available online.
Gwinnett County clerk's office will offer free copies of ID cards for voters requesting absentee ballots
Gwinnett County Clerk of Court Tiana Garner announced that her office will offer free paper copies of identification cards to residents who need them to comply with newly enacted rules that require voters show identification when they request an absentee ballot.
The new ID requirement was included in the controversial omnibus elections reform bill known as Senate Bill 202. Although there are no county-wide or statewide elections planned for 2021, Garner said residents can begin getting their identification card copies right away.
“The right to vote is of fundamental importance and critical to the survival of our democracy,” Garner said in a statement. “It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that every eligible person who wants to vote is able to do so.”
The ID requirement has been portrayed by proponents of Senate Bill 202 as a way to make elections more secure by providing a way to confirm the person requesting an absentee ballot is who they claim to be.
During an interview with the Daily Post on elections reforms on Wednesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger praised Garner’s office for moving quickly to begin offering the ID copies.
“According to state law, if you do not have a driver’s license number, then you can apply — if you meet all of the other qualifications, i.e. an American citizen — for a state-issued ID,” Raffensperger said. “Right now, about 97% of all registered voters have a driver’s license number on record with the Secretary of State’s Office in our voter files. About another 2.7% we have social security numbers for so we already have 99.7% of all voters have a unique identifier.
“So, that 0.3% we don’t have then they can have a state-issued ID. It’s really good that Gwinnett County is being so proactive. They should be congratulated.”
The Clerk of Court office locations where residents can get the free ID card copies are open from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.
The addresses for those locations are:
♦ The Clerk of Superior and the State and Magistrate Court, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.
♦ The Magistrate Court clerk’s office in the Court Annex on the second floor of the Gwinnett County Detention Center, 2900 University Parkway in Lawrenceville.
♦ The Gwinnett County Juvenile Court clerk’s office, 115 Stone Mountain Street in Lawrenceville.
Gateway85 CID investing half-a-million dollars into freight plan recommended improvements
The Gateway85 Community Improvement district is planning to make a major investment in infrastructure and mobility projects that were recommended as part of its Freight Cluster Plan.
The CID will spend $500,000 on what were deemed “key project recommendations” in the plan, mainly critical infrastructure updates that could make it easier to get around the district. The freight plan focused on areas that are south of the Jimmy Carter Boulevard corridor and west of Interstate 85.
The Atlanta Regional Commission labeled that area as a freight-intensive cluster in 2016.
“Massive growth in our district, considered the gateway to metro Atlanta, is creating equally large traffic challenges,” Gateway85 CID Executive Director Emory Morsberger said. “Through our partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission and Gwinnett County, we are meeting these challenges head on.”
The CID will work with Kimley-Horn to take the list of projects from the freight plan and prioritize projects that are deal with improved safety, infrastructure maintenance and capacity building. The freight plan, which was conducted over a two-year period, produced a list of more than 200 potential projects such as intersection improvements, pedestrian upgrades and roadway operational projects.
The freight plan stemmed from a 2017 ARC transportation improvement program. Gwinnett County and the Gateway85 CID partnered to provide a 20% local match to the initial $250,000 to get a study for the plan started.
“Metro Atlanta has been a national leader in industrial development for years and experienced even higher levels of industrial construction in 2020, when many sectors of the economy slowed,” ARC Principal Planner Daniel Studdard said. “The Freight Cluster Planning Program is a way to address the transportation infrastructure needs of industrial clusters, such as the Gateway 85 CID area, that are a key component of the region’s growing economy. The Gateway 85 CID’s Freight Cluster Plan was developed as a collaborative partnership between public and private sector stakeholders, resulting in a plan to move freight more efficiently, address safety needs, and improve access to jobs.”
Gwinnett County Transportation Director Lewis Cooksey added, “Partnerships with Community Improvement Districts like Gateway85 allow the Gwinnett County Transportation Department to better prioritize and find solutions that will improve mobility. Gateway85’s property owners are motivated to keep business moving and with their added investment, we can complete projects more quickly together. The Freight Cluster Plan has provided us with an important list of initiatives, and we look forward to working with Gateway85 to complete more updates.”
Some short-term projects that will receive funding right away include:
♦ Making turn lanes longer to accommodate trucks that are larger and longer larger than those in use when the turn lanes were created. This is intended to make it easier to navigate traffic and prevent the destruction of curbs.
♦ Working on traffic signal timing to reduce traffic congestion
♦ Doing road resurfacing projects on roadways and at railroad crossings in partnership with Gwinnett County officials
♦ Putting in better wayfinding signage and adding pedestrian crossings to increase safety and make traffic flows more efficient
The full executive summary for the Freight Cluster Plan can be found at www.gateway85.com/portfolio/freight-transit-study/, and an interactive map of proposed projects can be found at bit.ly/3uflfR3.
Gwinnett extending pandemic-related rent and utility assistance program in April
Gwinnett County will offer an extension of its Project RESET program that is designed to help residents negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in April.
The county is using $28.1 million in federal stimulus funds made available through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to extend the program, which Commissioner Marlene Fosque, Chief Magistrate Kristina Hammer Blum and HomeFirst Gwinnett’s Matt Elder launched last year to help Gwinnettians avoid getting evicted from their homes. County officials said the extension will allow residents to apply for financial support to pay past due rent and past due utility payments.
“Some people experiencing financial distress related to COVID-19 have been able to keep up with their rental payments at the expense of essential utilities like power, gas and water,” Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to build on the success of Project RESET to offer additional support for our community during this difficult time.”
As of mid-March funding from the federal CARES Act had been used to distribute $3.75 million in rental assistance to 849 households. Unlike the original version of the program, which offered help for up to six months, county officials said the extension will expand that to as much as 15 months of assistance. That could include help with up to one year of rental or utility arrears as well as future rental and utility assistance.
The program is open to people who are renting property in Gwinnett County, have either seen their household income reduced or qualified for unemployment benefits, experiences a financial hardship or incurred significant costs because of the pandemic, are at risk of becoming homeless, have received an eviction notice that makes their housing situation insecure, are past due on rent or utilities or whose household income is either equal to or less than 80% of the area median income.
Payments that cover past due costs are made directly to the landlord or utility providers.
County officials said households who need immediate assistance are encouraged to visit GCGA.us/COVID19Resources to learn about community resources. Tenants and landlords who are interested in participating in the program can learn more about it through a Frequently Asked Questions section available at GCGA.us/RentalAssistance.
Applications for the extension are expected to become available in late April.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger: Georgia's controversial election reform bill provides 'balance between accessibility with security'
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defended the state’s controversial new election reforms this past week by arguing they made voting both more secure and more accessible.
Raffensperger discussed the reforms during a telephone interview with the Daily Post, answering questions about how provisions of Senate Bill 202 would work and how some of those provisions might impact Gwinnett County voters. Proponents of the bill have argued it will make elections more fair and secure while opponents have argued some of its provisions will lead to suppression of voters, particularly in minority communities.
“I would say it provides the proper balance between accessibility with security,” Raffensperger said.
Georgia made headlines across the nation and overseas after the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 202 and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law last week. Voting and civil rights groups have already filed a lawsuit against the state to get it overturned and the Georgia Republican Party announced on Wednesday that it plans to intervene in the lawsuit as a co-defendant.
On Friday, Major League Baseball announced it was pulling this year’s draft and All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of the bill, and Delta CEO condemned the bill in a memo to the airline’s employees.
“There’s been an awful lot of over-the-top hyperbole about what this bill does or doesn’t do,” Raffensperger said. “It does several good things and I think people need to focus on that.”
But, during a virtual chat with Gwinnett High School Democrats on Thursday, state Rep. Donna McCleod, D-Lawrenceville, said the bill was “based on a lie” about the 2020 general election, in which Democrats made big strides in Georgia.
Former President Donald Trump led an argument by Republicans that there was fraud in Georgia’s election. Last year marked the first time since 1992 that a Democrat has won Georgia in a presidential race.
“I do not think legislators should be making laws or any kind of policy based on a lie,” McCleod said. “It’s dangerous for the constituents that we serve.”
Seventeen mandatory days of early voting, with option for up to 19 days
One of the aspects that Raffensperger touted concerning accessibility was an increase in the number of days of early voting that are required under state law. Despite the increased number of required days, however, the actual early voting window — which lasts three weeks — will remain the same.
State law previously only required counties to offer early voting on 16 of the days during the early voting period, but counties were allowed to — and indeed some larger counties, like Gwinnett, opted to — use up to 19 days. It will now require 17 days, with an option for counties to go up to 19 days.
“So, there’s more uniformity for all counties, but also more access for all voters,” Raffensperger said. “But, also because you have more access for early voting, we’re hoping that that helps reduce some of the capacity requirements that you’ll have on election day.”
What the new requirements for the number of mandatory early voting days translates to for Gwinnett County voters, however, is no change in the number of early voting days offered in the county — unless the county’s elections board opts to not not use either of the two optional days.
The new state rules require two Saturday voting days during the early voting period as well as the option to do two days of Sunday voting. Prior to Senate Bill 202, only one day of Saturday voting was required while the the other Saturday and the two Sundays during the early voting window were available as options.
In Gwinnett, however, both Saturdays and both Sundays were already used as early voting days in 2020.
“We have some counties that only have 3,000 peoples, so 17 days is probably plenty (but) we have other counties, however, that have a million people and they might want to have 19 days,” Raffensperger said.
Critics claim voter suppression
But, despite Raffensperger’s assurances that the bill will expand voter access while increasing security, critics remain unconvinced.
“(Senate Bill) 202 is famously the voter suppression bill,” state Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, told high school Democrats on Thursday.
Democrats have argued that rather than making elections more accessible, the new rules put in place by Senate Bill 202 will do the opposite.
One section in the bill reduces the window for applying for an absentee ballot. State law previously said the application could be filed up to 180 days before the election. Senate Bill 202 reduced that to 78 days with a new cutoff deadline set at 11 days before the election.
Runoffs will now be held four weeks after the original election in stead of the nine weeks state officials agreed to put in place in 2013 after a federal judge ruled that the state wasn’t giving Georgia voters living overseas enough time to get ballots mailed in.
“They just made it a lot more difficult and put a whole lot more regulation on it that we have to study and adjust to it, and pay for it,” Hutchinson said.
The capacity requirements Raffensperger referred to deal with requiring counties to either split up election day precincts or start adding more staff for precincts where the wait time to vote exceeds one hour.
“Those are all good measures to make sure that voters aren’t in line for long periods of time,” Raffensperger said.
Hutchinson said the state is already losing money from moves in the private sector, similar to the one taken by Major League Baseball, but she also said there will likely be a deeper impact for counties like Gwinnett.
That impact is the cost of conducting elections, she said.
“Locally, it’s going to cost us more money to do all of the things that they’re asking us to do to suppress the vote in Gwinnett County, Hutchinson said. “That’s going to happen across the state, and I don’t think there was a real good plan on how (counties) would cover all of these costs, but it’s not going to be free and if you think about your right to vote, that’s one free thing that you’re born with and we’re going to be paying out the wazoo for it.”
IDs for requesting absentee ballots will replace signature match
While the Gwinnett County is already using all of the days that the state will now allow counties to use for early voting, the area where the county’s voters can expect to see a change is the new requirements for providing identification to request an absentee ballot.
Requiring the IDs will make elections more secure, according to the secretary of state.
The secretary of state said the new ID-based system will replace the controversial signature match system that voting rights advocates accused Gwinnett elections officials of using in 2018 to disproportionately reject minority voters.
“That’s a good thing because we’ve been sued by both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party,” Raffensperger said. “Neither one of them liked it. In fact the Democratic Party sued South Carolina to do away with signature match because signature match does have an element of subjectivity to it.
“So, now we’re going to the driver’s license number, which is very objective. You have your unique identifier, your unique driver’s license number. You also put on your birthdate, day, month and year. Those are unique to you and so that way, we can verify who that is.”
Raffensperger said the ID system is already used in several Republican and Democrat-leaning states, including Virginia, New Jersey and Minnesota.
“I know that the Minnesota Democratic Party loves it (and) their secretary of state, who’s a Democrat, he likes it too,” Raffensperger said. “So, if it’s embraced up there by Democrats, it should be embraced in Georgia by Democrats.”
Absentee ballot drop boxes allowed — but scaled back in places like Gwinnett
Another aspect of the bill that has been controversial is the handling of absentee ballot drop boxes. The bill allows drop boxes, but requires they be located inside early voting locations and only be available during the early voting period, which ends the Friday before election day.
That would reduce the number of drop boxes available in Gwinnett. During the general election last year, as well as the Jan. 5 runoff election, the county offered 23 drop box sites but it only had nine early voting sites.
The new law mandates Gwinnett offer at least one drop box, but it also states that the number of additional drop boxes beyond that be equal to the “lesser of either one drop box for every 100,000 active registered voters in the county or the number of advance voting locations in the county.”
Gwinnett has 595,911 registered voters, according to the latest figures posted on the secretary of state’s website. That means the county would only be able to have about a half-dozen drop boxes for an election.
But, Raffensperger does not believe there will be as big a need for the drop boxes in future elections as there was in 2020.
“We put those in place (through a) State Election Board ruling when I was the chairman, and that was because we were in a pandemic and there was also the issues about the reliability of the United State Postal Service,” Raffensperger said. “We also had about 30% of all voters voting absentee. Since COVID is now dissipating, I don’t believe — and this is just my hunch — we’ll be going back to 6% (the percentage of voters casting absentee ballots before the pandemic), but I don’t think we’ll be at 30%.
“So, I think there will be less demand for absentee voting (and) less demand for absentee ballot drop boxes.”
After a long wait, construction begins on Rogers Bridge rebuild connecting Duluth, Johns Creek
Decades ago, Jean Taylor Miller and Beverly Taylor Thompson used Rogers Bridge to drive across the Chattahoochee River from what would become Johns Creek to head into downtown Duluth.
The bridge has a special meaning to Miller and Thompson — known in the Johns Creek community as the Taylor sisters even though they no longer live in the city — because it is named for one of their ancestors. The sisters are descended from John Rogers, who operated a ferry across the river in the 1800’s, before the bridge named for his family was built.
But, for Miller, 78, and Thompson, 80, the bridge was just something they needed as a part of their everyday lives.
“This was our connection to Duluth, which was the nearest town,” Thompson said. “It was a very small town when we were growing up. Parsons (store) was in Duluth. It was everything, dry goods, hardware, everything was there ...
“We would come across the bridge to go shopping (and) we had friends that lived on this side of the bridge.”
On Monday, Officials from Duluth, Johns Creek and Gwinnett and Fulton counties kicked off construction on the third iteration of a crossing over the river to be named for the Rogers family.
The cities and the counties are teaming up to replace the old Rogers Bridge, which has been closed to vehicle traffic since the late 1970s, with a new Rogers Bridge that will be a pedestrian walkway over the river. The project is set to cost about $8 million with Federal Highway Safety Administration grants covering a large part of the project in addition to money from the Atlanta Regional Commission.
The new bridge, which is expected to take 15 months to build and will look largely the same as the old bridge, will connect Rogers Bridge Park in Duluth with a new park that is under construction on the Johns Creek side of the river.
“Since 1978, the Chattahoochee River has essentially acted as a moat between the residents of Johns Creek and North Fulton and the residents of Duluth and Gwinnett County,” Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said. “Now, with the (replacement) of this bridge, pedestrians, bike cyclists and joggers from all of our communities will be linked.”
Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris and Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said the project has been in the planning stages since at least the early 2000s and the fact that construction is now beginning means a lot to their respective cities.
“I think it is a long time coming and a wonderful opportunity for both of our communities,” Bodker said. “I think what it means is, you know, communities tend to form naturally, organically and it’s easy for those communities to forget that they have neighbors.
“And, when you have a river, it’s just far enough away and unreachable that they may not feel as neighborly, and I think, for us, what this will do is bring our neighbors together.”
For Harris, the project is bittersweet. While the new bridge will offer a new connection and increased walkability and bikeability for residents of Duluth, Harris recalled playing on the bridge as a young girl, after it was closed to vehicles.
“It’s got a lot of different meanings,” Harris said. “For the people who grew up here, this is a very sentimental project and when we do the ribbon cutting, we’re really going to make it a community event. This was just isolated out here. There’s nothing out here and we felt like we were kind of getting away when we came out here as teenagers and played on the bridge. So, for that, it’s a sentimental thing.
“For the region, it’s a phenomenal project. When you think about the four governments involved, it really was like herding cats to get four governments (together). It’s not that people were being uncooperative, it’s just that there was so much paperwork and financing that had to take place.”
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