Stephens County GOP files official objection to local Runoff Election

Earlier this evening, Stephens County GOP Chair Rebeckah Bennett advised ConnectLocal that an official complaint had been filed with the Election Division of the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.


"The SCGOP filed an objection to this election process. It is an egregious issue when communication and lack of transparency are so fractured that the voters end up 1) unable to vote due to not receiving their absentee ballots and/or not receiving them timely 2) that questions regarding break in process were not answered 3) failure in communication with the voters is so fractured and lacks the required transparency OCGA & local legislation provides," Bennett stated in a press release posted to the SCGOP social media page.


ConnectLocal spoke with a representative from the Secretary of State's Office who advised that the official objection filed by the SCGOP will not have an impact on the election results from Stephens County.


According to the Elections Results on the Secretary of State's website, Stephens County is the only county in the 50th Senate District that has not certified elections results. ConnectLocal was verbally advised by Bennett that, to her understanding, Stephens County Registrar Eureka Gober submitted the certification paperwork at 5:05 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 17, which corresponds with the "last updated" timestamp for Stephens County on the SOS website, but Stephens County's status has not been updated to "certified."


Below is a verbatim copy of the complaint and exhibits filed by the SCGOP with the Georgia Secretary of State's Office:


ConnectLocal will be following up on this story and talking with the Stephens County Board of Elections, the Stephens County Registrar and a spokeswoman from the SOS office tomorrow, as well as County officials and commissioners. We will update this story as more information is made available.


Letter to Georgia Secretary of State's Office - Elections Division, from STEPHENS COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY, Chairwoman: Rebeckah J. Bennett, Vice-Chair: Bill Grant, Secretary: Juen Vaugh.


Election Complaint/Objection to August 11, 2020 Runoff Election in Stephens County


The elections office in Stephens County continues to lack the integrity and confidence of the voting base in Stephens County. The issues occurring from one election to the next continue to center in the same scenario. The office does not regularly conform to what is OCGA election code or the local legislation of 1993. There is a huge gap in the sense of urgency or understanding regarding policy, procedure, and code driven processes to ensure the integrity of all elections is maintained, fulfilled and reported.


As sighted in the June 9 Primary by the 9th District and Stephens County Republican parties in 2 official complaints, the office continues to fail in adhering to the protocols laid out in election law/code and the Covid19 OCGA 183-1-14 that explicitly lays out a process that is has not been followed. The runoff election for August 11th was no exception. Please note the details of the two dates that SC BOR&E’s set up to complete the election functions of the runoff election. The egregious and blatant disregard for procedure can no longer continue if Stephens County voters are to be convinced that the local elections office functions with integrity and transparency under the GA laws and codes for governance.


Firstly, the communication in the Elections office by the Registrar (Eureka Gober) is poor and non-existent at best. There are many functions that require the office to execute proper notice that have time and again failed to be properly executed, whereas officials have granted a certain grace to. The most recent events discovered, directly reflect on the failure to properly communicate in several facets:


  1. Registrar to board members of the BOR&E’s members

  2. Failure to communicate with the media (All media) – often times the Stephens County registrar picks and choses which media to communicate leaving the others with no contact and displaying a reluctance or defiance to communication any further than those actions previously chosen to communicate with.

  3. Failure to ensure it is posted/communicated with the official representatives that are provided access to the elections proceedings (Official party representation, candidates/campaigns, other county officials that wish to observe)

  4. Failure to communicate to the public what are the protocols of the office, timely response or answering of phones and other general communication that is mandated from the Elections office.

There is email communication attached as Exhibit A that supports the direct overt actions of the Registrar to the board and to party officials/media. It is an egregious oversight of the Registrar to have set a date and time with the elections board where they have cleared their schedules in order to fulfill their roles on the board, only to have their time and actions discarded and disrespected, then played off as a simple “clerical error”; only after it was made known to the SOS that the incorrect date was sent/posted to the public. The issue is not only to have made the error but failure to communicate/follow up with the board members, whose schedules this direction affects as it relates to being able to fulfill the duties of the Elections Office. It is not the responsibility of the board outside of board meetings or communications previously voted upon to track down or continually verifiy information from the Registrar that was sent into the SOS office as official correspondence. The BOR&E is set up to function based on the board of 3 majority vote. No board member should be continually expected to adhere to the whim of the Registrar when such insubordination steps outside of the schedule/recorded vote for when functions are to take place within OCGA and guidelines. The blatant disrespect for everyone’s time is something that has only recently taken place in the transition of Registrars from Mr. Bill Cochran to Mrs. Eureka Gober. As Mr. Cochran’s clerk, Mrs. Gober was privy to the day to day functions and requirements of the role as Registrar in a very “hands-on” manner and also had the explicit recommendation from the previous Registrar in the form of a letter of recommendation to her file. The most reoccurring theme of responses from Stephens County Registrar has been “I was unaware of the expectation”, which continues to be less and less believable with each election and set of processes that are dismally achieved at best and lack the preparation and organization required to complete the Elections Superintendent role requirements.

Secondly, the time factor continues to be an issue that seemingly can’t be sorted out for the Stephens County Registrar. The timeline is attached as Exhibit B, for how the process of early scanning took place on Friday, August 7th, 2020. It is not only an issue that the BOR&E’s agreed to an early start date of Thursday, August 6th, 2020 at Noon, and the proper paperwork was submitted for the Friday date, the lack of preparedness to actually execute the said function of early scanning was not in place on August 7, 2020 at 10:00am when all the officials and observers assembled. The forms were not present/available and it took nearly an hour in a search to locate the oaths for the poll workers that were slotted to help with the scanning process, that a board member finally located after which the Registrar just conceded that she could not find and stopped searching for. To date, a reconciliation form or tracking of ballots with adjudication or issues was not and has not to my knowledge upon leaving the Historic Courthouse at 10:36pm on August 11, 2020 been completed. The code section 4 for OCGA 183-1-14 is clear in how the process should be completed, and yet was not followed. As party representative, it was addressed and noted that there are forms “somewhere” that the SOS office sends yet none were located or executed per the process. Through this process the Registrar was disengaged and not present for the functions directly attached to the elections processes.

Thirdly, the “details” of elections can no longer be permitted to continue as irrelevant. The Stephens County Registrar continues to exhibit zero sense of urgency or importance in fulfilling the role as Registrar. The lack of preparedness and detail oriented skills will open all elections up for recounts/law suits etc…. The “close races” from the City of Toccoa Commission Race/SPLOSH in 2019 and now the primary(6/9/2020) with a contested sheriff’s race, and this (8/11/2020) runoff election all are examples where the details must be correct. It is only because those candidates to date chose not to pursue action, not because it wasn’t warranted. I know for a fact in the primary that roughly 100 ballots were counted twice. Luckily, the sheriff’s race was not a close one and thus this incompetence was not something that would have caused an election to be scrutinized, however, in a close race such as the Hatchett/Hall race in the Senate District 50 for GA that is not the case and the Registrar’s lack of details and tracking data is alarming. (Email documentation/correspondence is attached as Exhibit C showing where an expected Absentee ballot count of “received” ballots was to start with 663 – Stephens County absentee ballots 100% reporting was 479).


Fourth, It is alarming and concerning that there is not a solid way to track the checks and balances of the process for absentee ballots being requested, mailed out, and received in. In Stephens County it was stated that 182 ballots were not logged through Enet at the time they were placed with the BOR&E’s to being counting them. To date, no one can assure me that those ballots were properly received prior to 7:01pm on 8/11/2020 and went through the proper verification processes. The other very egregious nature of ballot handling that fails to “secure the votes” is equally alarming. During the counting process on 8/11/2020 where 2 additional ballots were brought in to be counted were done so with the explanation of “I found these on my desk”. This is far from acceptable and has cause not just integrity issues with the process but his now causing voter concerns as many don’t trust the system/office in place to fulfill the civic rights of voting.


Lastly, It is concerning that the Registrar seems to choose to be absent in all proceedings. The responsibly to run the elections process is pushed to the deputy registrar and the board to complete. There is no communication that isn’t prompted by others regarding processes and transparency, open records, and communication. In the events during the early assembling of the BOR&E’s , the poll workers, observers, and party officials we were assembled at 6:45pm and the process due to the absence of the Registrar didn’t start until 8:07pm. Time again is the single most coveted resource any volunteer or participating member has to offer and to be so disrespected / discarded by an employee who is paid to complete the role is disheartening and a main reason voting turnout trended less in numbers in comparison to other county/state slate & presidential election cycles.

Sincerely,

Rebeckah J. Bennett, Chairwoman

Stephens Co. Republican Party

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