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Impact Johns Creek talks municipal elections

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Impact Johns Creek hosted an open house on Feb. 16 to bring community members together with city officials to discuss local issues, including the city’s study into running its own municipal elections this fall.

The organization, dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the city, welcomed people to Memories Event Space for food, drinks and conversation. Impact Johns Creek President Nicole Washington and President-elect Devon Dabney led the event.

At the front of the room, Johns Creek councilmembers Larry DiBiase, Stacy Skinner and Erin Elwood fielded questions about plans for municipal elections.

The topic has gained interest among North Fulton cities since Fulton County announced an increase in costs it plans to charge cities for operating elections.

Impact Johns Creek President Nicole Washington

Impact Johns Creek President Nicole Washington introduces members of the Johns Creek City Council at the Feb. 16 open house at Memories Event Space on State Bridge Road.

Johns Creek, Alpharetta and Roswell have been studying the issue since the City of Milton announced in December it plans to implement its own polling system.

Fulton County has given cities until March 31 to decide whether to contract with the county or run their own election.

Johns Creek City Councilwoman Erin Elwood has spoken against the plan to bring elections in-house, and she doubled down on her concerns at the Feb. 16 open house.

“We have to ask do we have the public’s buy-in, and have we done enough due diligence to get there?” Elwood said. “To me, the answer is already no.”

Elwood said she is open to the possibility of Johns Creek running its own elections in 2025, because its “frustrating” to rely on Fulton County to set municipal election costs. The councilwoman said the number of controls necessary to get the public on board will make the plan difficult for 2025, though.  

A key concern among attendees and councilmembers was polling locations. If Johns Creek models their election plan after the one planned for Milton, the number of polling locations could be reduced.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to reduce the ability for the voters to go there and vote,” Councilman Larry DiBiase said.

One resident cited her experience as a poll worker.

“People are underestimating the work that goes into being a poll worker for Fulton County,” she said. “A lot of what we do is telling people they have gone to the wrong voting location.”

Kay Howell, president of the North Fulton Chapter of the NAACP, asked why the city wouldn’t keep outsourcing elections. Howell said the city should continue to negotiate with Fulton County, rather than go its own way.

“If someone else can do It better, then you need to pay that person to do it better,” Howell said.

Councilman DiBiase said the city’s decision will ultimately fall on data from Fulton County. If the data shows the city would save no money running its own election, Johns Creek will continue to contract with Fulton County.

NAACP North Fulton Executive Board Member Erika Barnes Ford, a Roswell resident, said the decision is about more than a price tag.

“I don’t know if you guys are actually also addressing, maybe the elephant in the room,” Ford said.

She said the election split feels like a “states rights” type of decision. As a Black woman, Ford said the conversation sparks thoughts of voting rights and limited access to the polls.

“There are those of us around the county who question why it would be necessary for smaller municipalities to run their own elections, especially in the climate we have across America,” Ford said.

Another resident echoed Ford’s concern. He said he worries people will say their votes were stolen because of the local municipalities’ control.

DiBiase agreed the situation is difficult, but he plans to keep an open mind.

“If we do this and we don’t do it right, we will have a mess on our hands,” DiBiase said. 

Elwood said the issue will be discussed at the City Council work session on Feb. 28.

Reach Delaney Tarr at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @delaneytarr.