ROSWELL, Ga. — The Roswell City Council has unanimously agreed to push forward on plans to have the city conduct its own municipal elections.
At a special called meeting Jan. 30, the council drew from discussions raised at a Jan. 23 work session and Jan. 24 committee meeting to avoid skyrocketing election costs from Fulton County, which has run municipal elections for years. In 2019 and 2021, Fulton County charged cities $2.96 per registered voter to manage their elections. In December 2022, the county proposed a new fee, $11.48 per voter.
The Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections pushed back against the price hike and negotiated the county charge down to $9.38 per registered voter for this fall’s elections.
The number is still too high for Roswell elected officials.
Roswell is one of several North Fulton County cities pushing to split from the county-run arrangement.
Milton set things in motion in December when its City Council voted to bring municipal elections in-house. The decision came after more than a year of research by a special committee to study the feasibility of city-run elections. Milton officials said the move would save the city close to $90,000 for the fall 2023 municipal election.
Alpharetta and Johns Creek followed Milton’s lead, with recent meetings to deliberate on the issue.
The cities plan for a possible partnership by which the polling will be run by one shared election superintendent. The timeline is tight, though, because Fulton County has set a March 1 deadline for cities to decide.
The Roswell City Council agreed to have city staff “work on due diligence with sister cities” on conducting municipal elections. The details of the possible intergovernmental agreement are still in the early stages, and Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson said the council cannot answer all the questions right now.
After Milton moved to run its own elections, sister cities are following quickly in its wake. Alpharetta, Roswell and Johns Creek officials have all met this week in a movement that could see one superintendent running all the ballots.
Roswell City Councilwoman Sarah Beeson raised concerns with the timeline, especially because so little is known about the plan right now. She asked whether a city twice the size of Milton could put all the pieces in place by March 1 and whether Roswell would face the same organizational pressures in future municipal elections.
Still, Beeson voted in support of moving forward, asking for a kind of “exploratory committee” to see if the city could manage their own municipal elections in 2023 or 2025.
While Wilson stressed that the decision is not binding, and the city will “bail” if necessary.
“I talked to the mayor of Milton this evening, and if the process is not worked out to the satisfaction of any of the cities, the process could be aborted,” Wilson said.
Beeson also asked if the city had tried to further negotiate costs with the county, in the effort of “due diligence on both sides,” in case Roswell decides not to run their own elections.
There’s little time left to renegotiate. Fulton County was set to vote on formalizing the $9.38 cost at a Feb. 1 Board of Commissioners meeting.
“With respect to the Wednesday meeting, there are no negotiations,” Wilson said.
Residents also commented on the election decision, with varying levels of support and concern. One resident asked whether the city had run a feasibility study for the elections.
“We’ve done a workshop and we’ve done a committee meeting where we’ve begun to explore the costs,” Wilson answered.
Two poll members came forward with different takes on the city’s plan. One said she was in favor of the plan, as well as the possibility of using paper ballots, which the Milton elections committee recommended for its elections. The poll worker said the paper ballots were more efficient than electronic scanners.
Councilmembers have raised concerns with the logistics of having a city of Roswell’s size use paper ballots, rather than electronic scanners.
Another poll worker, Eren Brumley, took issue with the tight timeline.
“I strongly suggest this change is taken as a research project for this year and then implement it next year after we find out it makes sense in the long run,” Brumley said. “In the meantime, you could negotiate a better rate from Fulton just for this year.”
Other residents asked for more voting locations in East Roswell, and they asked how the city would decide on an election superintendent.
Wilson said he does not have all the answers, because the discussion is about “learning more about” what it would look like for Roswell to run elections.
“In committee we began to share information, but by no means is it all the information or all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” Wilson said.
— Staff reporter Amber Perry contributed to this story.