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Forsyth County elections board postpones hearing over deputy’s voter registration status

Possible new voting precincts, the next steps for an out-of-city voter casting a ballot in a city of Cumming election and new election machines were among items discussed at a meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections.

All votes were approved by a 5-0 vote, unless otherwise noted.

Hearing postponed

After a Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s Sgt. James Cutcliff was recently placed on administrative leave as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation looks into whether he improperly voted in the city of Cumming election without living in the city, the elections board was expected to hold on a hearing at Tuesday’s meeting.

Instead, Mandi Smith, acting director of the county’s voter registrations and elections department, read a statement saying no hearing would be held until after the GBI had concluded its investigation.

“A hearing in this matter had been set for today’s meeting but has been canceled,” Smith said. “An outside agency is conducting an inquiry into this matter, and upon advice of the county attorney, we believe it would be inappropriate for the board of voter registrations and elections to conduct its own hearing at this time. In the event the board elects to conduct a hearing into this matter at a later date, proper notice of the meeting will be made in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.”

Georgia Secretary of State voter registration documents obtained by the Forsyth County News show that Cutcliff’s registered “residence address” is 202 Veterans Memorial Blvd. - the address of the Forsyth County Jail - while a P.O. Box in Cumming is listed as his mailing address.

Forsyth County property records show that Cutcliff sold a residence off Magnolia Creek Drive in north Forsyth in 2007, but his name is not attached to any other county property.

GBI officials have confirmed that their office would be conducting an inquiry into the "circumstances surrounding the voter registration address that has come into question."

Cutcliff has not officially been accused of any crime, but knowingly registering false voter information is a felony under Georgia law, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Cutcliff has been an active voter in the county since 2002, according to documents obtained by the FCN, most recently casting a ballot in the general and primary elections in 2018, but also in the 2017 City of Cumming City Council election which ended in a tie between Post 1 incumbent Chuck Welch and challenger Chad Crane.

During that race, it was discovered that both Welch and Crane received 441 votes, an unprecedented circumstance for which the city had no official protocol to resolve at the time. Crane later won in a runoff election in December 2017.

Where to vote

In a recent meeting, there has been some talk of where voters will cast ballots in 2020, particularly after two churches chose not to be polling places in 2018.

Barbara Luth, the county’s chief registrar and former head of the county department, said one challenge for churches is advance voting.

“It is much easier to get an election day precinct than it is to get an advance voting precinct that is open for a longer period of time,” she said. “Yes, we can use more locations now, however, with respect to churches, if you have Saturday voting that you have to tear down and then set up on Monday, it takes a little bit of time.”

Though both were polling places in the 2016 midterm election, both Browns Bridge Church and Harmony Grove Baptist Church chose not to be polling places beginning in 2017 for the Browns Bridge and Chestatee precincts, respectively. Since then, voting for both has been held at the Central Park Recreation Center.

Republican board member Joel Natt pointed out a less well-known portion of House Bill 316, the recently signed bill approving new voting machines includes provisions allowing the selection of polling places outside of precincts “to better serve voters” and in locations that are “not a government building.”

“That’s three or four lines of that bill, and I really think we need to dive into that,” Natt said. “We probably want to see what other government entities our size are looking at.”

Parking is among the factors the board will look at.

No action was taken.

City precinct to grow

With the city of Cumming’s recent annexations of Forsyth County land, the city’s voting precinct has also grown.

“Ultimately, we need to change … the precinct line of Cumming to match the city of Cumming line,” Smith said. “In order to do that … [the board] needs to make a motion to allow that to happen.”

Members voted unanimously to start the process and the change can ultimately be approved at their July meeting.

Smith said less than 55 voters would be impacted by the change, which would allow them to vote in city of Cumming elections. City residents are also eligible to vote in county elections.