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2015 became a busy election year for Forsyth County

FORSYTH COUNTY — Falling when it did, between the midterms of 2014 and 2016’s primary and general elections, 2015 could have been a slow year for the Forsyth County Department of Voter Registrations and Elections. Instead, it was quite busy.

In 2015, three members of the Cumming City Council and a state representative announced they were either stepping down or not seeking re-election. For the department, those developments meant a special election and runoff this summer, followed by a municipal election in the fall.

In June, an election was held to fill the vacancies created by the departures of Cumming City Councilman Rupert Sexton and District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, both of whom chose to step down.

Hamilton’s seat was won by Sherri Gilligan. The contest required a July runoff as no candidate secured the required 50 percent plus one vote.

For the remainder of Sexton’s Post 1 term, the top vote getter was local banker Chuck Welch.

Barbara Luth, Forsyth’s supervisor of voter registrations and elections, said the elections cost the county more than $30,000, mostly due to paying non-county employee poll workers for Election Day and the weeks of required advance voting.

“The June election was about $22,000,”Luth said. “The July election was a little over $12,000. Most of that was the payroll and the ballots and postage. Because if the staff, when worked over time, we took additional time off. Like when we stayed election night, instead of getting overtime, we compensated by taking time off.”

Luth said although the county would have paid for overtime, she wanted her department to be “good stewards of county money.”

In November, another election was held to fill the seats of Cumming City Councilmen Ralph Perry of Post 4, won by Christopher Light, and John Pugh of Post 5, whose seat was won by Linda Ledbetter. Luth said since there were no county elections, the city would pay once she had totaled the cost.

Prior to the special contest in June, the fall election was the first contested one in Cumming since 2003.

“The November election that we just held, which was a little under $9,000 will be paid for by the city,” Luth said. “So the city does reimburse us for that one.”

Luth said the June election did not cost the city due to the state race also being on the ballot. Still, the elections were largely able to stay within the department’s budget.

“Fortunately, we were able to absorb the cost of those elections in our 2015 budget, except for about the $20,000 that we just asked the [county commission] for to release for some other things,” she said. “Other than that, we were able to work it into our budget.”

Since the poll workers were not county employees, Luth said the impact on the department wasn’t too severe.

“We had to stop inputting some registrations, because we also stop during election time,” she said. “But we have caught up very quick on those, so that is not a problem.”

According to Luth, the staff has begun preparations for next year’s election cycle.

“Next year will be a little crazy, but we’re always prepared for special elections when they pop up,” she said. “We don’t have that many of them, but it does happen when people step down and we have to handle it. Luckily, I have a very good staff that does a great job.”

Among the key dates for the 2016 election cycle are the presidential preference primary on March 1, the general primary election on May 24 and the general election on Nov. 8.