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State closes election matter
County unlikely to pursue further
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County’s former chief registrar and elections director said a recent decision by the State Board of Elections has exonerated him.

The board voted unanimously last week to close a complaint filed against Gary J. Smith by Brant Meadows, the former Republican representative on the local elections board.

Smith, who led the local board for eight years, said he was pleased with the state's decision.

“I think it was appropriate and about time that it was done,” he said.

Smith's second term ended June 30. He said he didn’t think the complaint needed to be made in the first place.

“I think that it just continues to show a waste of taxpayer’s money by having frivolous complaints being made by people who have been doing it against a lot of people,” he said.

The Forsyth County commission voted last month to pay up to $1,000 for Smith’s legal representation in the case.

According to an investigation summary provided by the Secretary of State’s Office, Meadows alleged that Smith, as chairman of the local elections board, failed to hold required monthly meetings, attempted to remove board members and failed to follow proper procedure for doing so.

In addition, Smith urged poll workers to lobby against House Bill 811. The bill, also known as the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, never became law.

The complaint also contended that Smith, despite legislative restrictions, published a newsletter with commentaries and failed in maintaining the confidentiality of an elector.

The summary shows that many of the allegations were based on local ordinances rather than violations of state laws.

Meadows stepped down from the elections board earlier this year to run for a seat on the county commission, which he did not win.

The investigation found that Smith did e-mail poll workers in his capacity as legislative chairman of the Georgia Election Officials Association. He also cancelled the January 2009 local elections board meeting and met with representatives of both political parties to discuss board changes.

Potential violations of state law listed in the summary were Smith’s failure to hold that January meeting and the use of his official capacity as

Forsyth County’s elections director to lobby against HR 811 through an e-mail sent from his county computer.

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said he doubts the county commission will take up the matter.

Laughinghouse said he was nearly 100 percent certain “the board has no desire to pursue any further action along that line.”

The summary also noted that the county had asked the Justice Department to investigate the local elections office.

The request, dated June 30, 2009, used an audit as the basis to ask the department to check for possible “legal, ethical and policy violations.”

Attempts to determine whether the department plans to investigate the matter were not successful.

An internal controls review conducted in 2008 by Sawyer & Co. of Dawsonville resulted in a 114-page examination of 35 different county departments.

The firm found 113 “significant deficiencies,” or items to monitor, and four “material weaknesses,” or severe risks.

Two of those weaknesses were in the elections department and the other two involved a payroll glitch and a lack of controls in handling the 1-cent sales tax revenue.

The latter two were corrected.

The company’s report included recommendations regarding the elections department items, which involved consulting agreements between Smith and outside agencies as well as Smith’s time-keeping records.

The current three-member elections board includes Democrat Matt Blender, Republican Doug Sorrells and Donald Glover, chief voter registrar and board chairman. Barbara Luth is the county's elections supervisor.