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Milton considers future path to conduct its own elections

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MILTON, Ga. — A vocal group of residents have earned the ears of Milton officials relating to how elections are organized within the city.

Milton, along with its North Fulton neighbors, enters a contract each election cycle to authorize Fulton County to conduct its municipal elections. However, amid generally unfounded questions of integrity amid the 2020 General Election and added costs cast onto Milton taxpayers under this year’s agreement, the city is considering charting a path to conduct its own municipal elections.

Ultimately, the timetable for Milton to conduct its own election is too tight. City Manager Steve Krokoff told the council at its Aug. 2 meeting that the risks outweigh the potential rewards for Milton organizing its own municipal election this November. Also, the city does not have its own staff with election experience, staff was unsure if it could obtain ballot boxes in a timely manner and the city would still not be able to oversee any county, state or federal ballots, including the second TSPLOST vote added to the ballot this November.

Krokoff said the city has no other choice but to have Fulton County conduct the Nov. 2 election. In a 5-2 vote, the council voted to enter the contract to have the county oversee its November election.

However, the seeds have been planted for Milton to further explore its options, with at least one council member stating the city is primed to “send a message” to the county that this year’s election will be the last under the administration of Fulton County.

The issue came to a head when a group of vocal residents packed into City Hall at the council’s July 19 meeting and strongly voiced their opposition to Fulton County continuing to conduct municipal elections with bursts of applause often following residents’ comments.

The council voted to defer its decision on the contract for the Nov. 2 election, in which several City Council seats will be decided, to explore its options.

At the Aug. 2 meeting, Krokoff said Milton staff conducted an expedited feasibility study on the matter of taking the reins from the county to conduct the November election, based on three “areas of concern,” including integrity, cost and feasibility.

“While the most important of the three is likely election integrity, that topic was beyond staff’s ability to analyze and was therefore not included in our study,” Krokoff told the council. “Further, while a significant amount of research was conducted by staff in cooperation with the community and the Secretary of State’s Office, two weeks only allowed for a limited review of a rather complex topic.”

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The city’s study did include a cost comparison, though. Under the agreement with the county, Milton taxpayers will be on the hook for about $84,000 to conduct the General Election, a charge of $2.96 per registered voter. If a runoff is required, it would add another $70,000 to the bill.

Unlike in prior years, the county is not reimbursing cities for ballots that are not cast by eligible voters. Krokoff said it appears that rate is “non-negotiable.”

The study found it would cost about $120,000 for Milton to oversee its own elections this year. That includes a “full compliment” of paper ballots and seven ballot boxes. Krokoff said it would be about five years before the city broke even to organize its own elections.

While the City Council approved an agreement to have Fulton County conduct the Nov. 2 General Election, board members used their Aug. 2 meeting as a sounding board to echo some resident’s feelings the city should oversee its own elections.

“I totally, as I’ve said before, support working towards us being in control of the elections,” Mayor Joe Lockwood said. “My concern would be trying to branch up and do something now. This close [to the election] might not be good.”

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Councilwoman Carol Cookerly said Milton conducting its own elections would a be a “slam dunk” long term, but she dismissed some suggestions that Milton consider partnering with other North Fulton cities to explore a break with Fulton County over elections.

That sentiment was echoed by Councilman Peyton Jamison, who said Milton could take the opportunity to set an example of “how to do things right.”

Councilman Joe Longoria said the county almost appears to be incentivizing cities to take their own route on elections, and that hopefully by next year, Milton would conduct its own.

Councilman Paul Moore said the lack of reimbursement to the city for ballots not cast, with no negotiation, is extraordinary, with fellow councilmember Rick Mohrig stating it is essentially a surcharge on top of what Milton residents already pay in county taxes.

While Fulton County will still oversee this year’s election, the Milton City Council has charged city staff in further exploring how Milton could take control over future municipal elections.

Reach Joe Parker at 770-847-8334. Follow him on Twitter @joeparkerga.

Joe Parker is an Editor with Appen Media Group and covers Milton, Forsyth County and high school sports.

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