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Elections chairman tapped for conference on voting
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County's elections chief has been selected to attend the Pew Charitable Trust's Voting in America conference next month in Washington, D.C.

Fresh off the busy local election cycle, Gary J. Smith is one of more than 250 state and local election officials, private sector leaders and federal and state policy-makers slated to attend the event.

"We are asking him to speak on one of our lead panels," said Michael Caudell-Feagan, director of Pew's Make Voting Work division. "Gary and Forsyth County have been one of the true leads in the nation on beginning to use technology and new management systems to try to improve the function of our election system.

"We are having him come in to share some of his insights from the strides that he's made."

Smith, who also serves as second vice chairman of the Georgia Election Officials Association, said he is eager to hear from other areas about how they managed the recent election.

"I'd like to find out what the problems and successes have been in other areas throughout the country," he said. "How did people handle early voting in other parts of the country, how did they handle touch-screen systems, did anybody run out of ballots?"

Smith said legislators might be able to use feedback from the three-day event to draft policy for future elections.

"I think I'm going to find out a lot of things and I think these are the things that are going to be put before Congress," Smith said. "It benefits me because I'm going to be able to see the many things they're discussing in legislation that are going to affect Georgia. I will have some early input into the work that legislators might be doing in D.C."

Among possibilities, Smith said, are expanding or shortening the early voting period, more debate on paper trails for electronic voting machines, or cutting back on technology and reverting to paper ballots.

Feagan said the event will be beneficial for Smith and Pew Charitable Trusts, which uses an analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.

"There will be insights from every aspect on our election system and the way it works and doesn't work, from our voter registration straight through to the audit of elections," he said.

"I'm sure he will gain insights from some of his colleagues and from those in the private sector who have solved comparable problems in their arenas."

Smith said he plans to brag on the success of Forsyth County's election, given that lines never topped 40 minutes and nearly 69 percent of those who voted did so before Election Day.

Pew Charitable Trusts will provide travel and lodging for Smith, who said he will pay for the remainder of the trip himself. He is also using vacation time for the trip, which runs from Dec. 8-10.

"Anytime you can get a better understanding of what's going to happen in the election field from those people who are experts, it always helps us do a better job here in our county," he said. "It helps us prepare for things that may be coming down the road so we don't get caught short.

"They always say education and knowledge are the two most important things anybody can have."