Nichols resigns as director of Towns County elections

Towns County Board of Elections

HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Towns County Elections Director Tonya Nichols officially resigned from office Wednesday, Oct. 2, leaving the position vacant as of next week. Nichols duties included administering and supervising the conduct of elections, the registering of electors for Towns County, directing and controling election and voter registration staff and volunteers while serving at the pleasure of the Towns County Board of Elections and Registration Board.

The Board assigns work in terms of general instructions requiring the use of judgment. The work is reviewed through observation of elections for the nature of the final results.  It is a full-time position requiring analytical challenges per the guidance of the Georgia Secretary of State.

Individuals interested in filling the position should possess a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, Business Management or related field preferred, or equivalent work experience. Preference is given to candidates with prior experience in Elections and Registration or County/State Government administrative or clerical positions.

Interested applicants should e-mail a resume with a cover letter to Janet Oliva, Chairperson, Towns County Board of Elections & Registration, at [email protected].

General questions should be directed to Janet Oliva by telephone at 404-277-2918.

Click for Tonya Nichols archives


Board of Elections to discuss possible closure of Tate City precinct

Tate city

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FetchYourNews (FYN) was notified that the Towns County Board of Elections plans to discuss the possible closure of the Tate City voting precinct Wednesday, Sept. 11.

“We will be approaching the subject of possibly consolidating the Tate City precinct,” Towns County Elections Supervisor Tonya Nichols said Tuesday. “No votes can be taken to consolidate, based on the code section yet, so this will be the beginning stage of the subject.”

Should the election board unanimously agree to consolidation, Tate City voters could potentially merge with the Macedonia precinct. The next step in the process, if advanced, will be public notification through media sources.

FYN spoke with Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw on the matter Tuesday afternoon.

“Members of the election board, along with myself, visited Tate City and let residents know that we plan to let them decide whether or not to close it. If they want to keep it open, that’s fine. If they want to close it, great. We explained the difficulty in transporting the new voting machines, and many of the Tate City voters have chosen early voting at the Hiawassee office in the past.”

As of Sept. 10, a total of 43 Towns County residents were registered to vote in the rural town of Tate City. The distance between Tate City and the Macedonia voting precinct is approximately 14 miles.

The Sept. 11 board meeting will be held at the Towns County Elections Office, adjacent to the Towns County Courthouse, at 4 p.m.

The meeting is open to the public.

Follow FYN for updates on future plans for Tate City voters.


Additional Towns County news

Towns County Elections “panicking” as voter reform lawsuit continues

Towns County Elections

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – As Hiawassee City Council’s three-of-five seats election approaches in November, and national, state, and county offices loom the following year, Towns County Board of Elections may have to scramble to put new procedures into place due to potential changes in voting laws

“We are panicking,” Towns County Elections Director Tonya Nichols told FYN, June 10. “We are hearing nothing about the training or the bidding process. The clock is ticking. It’s disheartening. We don’t know where we stand or what to do.”

Hand-marked ballots could become a reality if challengers of the electronic system succeed in the continuation of the “Fair Fight Action” lawsuit, initiated upon the defeat of 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams. In recent weeks, a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the use of touchscreen voting terminals was denied by a federal judge. Attorneys for the State of Georgia argued that the lawsuit should be dropped as the Secretary of State’s Office is in the process of selecting a new vendor for voting machines, and widespread changes to election laws were implemented, including a bill signed by Governor Brian Kemp that calls for new voting machines that print paper ballots, extends the time period before registrations are canceled, and places limitations on the closure of voting precincts. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg countered that “rapidly evolving cybertechnology changes and challenges have altered the reality now facing electorial voting systems and Georgia’s system in particular,” adding that the motion to dismiss the lawsuit disregarded that fact.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, should hand-marked ballots become the future of the voting process, the cost to Georgia taxpayers is estimated in the multimillions. “Implementing hand-marked paper ballots would cost our state more than the estimated $224 million, since that number does not include the costs of staff, training, and other items related to election systems,” Georgia Secretary of State Director of Elections Chris Harvey concluded. “A hand-marked paper ballot system would also dramatically shift costs onto local governments – placing a heavy burden on local taxpayers and drawing a stark distinction between this and other options designed to prioritize taxpayer savings.”

While the Towns County Elections Office anticipates potential reformation, elections’ employees are faced with a host of responsibilties, including processing voter registration applications, preparing advertisements of qualifying requirements, updating voters’ card files, and performing municiple street maintenance, which ensures software data correctly corresponds with the location of voters’ residences, among other duties. “We stay busy as we wait in limbo for what’s to come,” Nichols said.

Early voting begins Monday in run-off election

Election 2018, News
Towns county election

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Early voting for the 2018 midterm run-off election begins Monday, Nov. 26, and runs through Friday, Nov. 30. The Hiawassee voting precinct, located at the Towns County Board of Elections, will open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with polls open until 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29.

“Several people have come into the office, asking when early voting starts,” Towns County Elections Director Tonya Nichols told FYN, “That may be an indication that there’s interest in the run-off.”

Nichols relayed that the elections office is waiting for absentee ballots to be delivered to Towns County. Applications are available online through the Secretary of State website.

The election to decide Georgia Secretary of State and Georgia Public Service Commission will be held Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Vying for Secretary of State, Republican Brad Raffensberger received 49.13 percent of the vote in the general election and Democrat John Barrow received 48.64 percent. In the race for Public Service Commission, Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton received 49.74 percent of the vote, while Democratic challenger Lindy Miller received 47.60 percent.

Polling precincts in Hiawassee, Macedonia, Tate City, and Young Harris will be open on election day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Count on FYN to deliver the results as the ballots are counted.

Strong voter turnout continues at local polls

Election 2018, News
Towns County Election

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Early voting in the Nov. 6 General election has reached its second week, and with two weeks left until Election Day, the Towns County Board of Elections Office has witnessed a surge in voter participation.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 0ver 1900 voters had cast their ballots at the Hiawassee precinct, and the Election Board considers the amount especially high. Election Board Director Tonya Nichols included an additional electronic voting booth to the three already in use last week, once it became evident that voters would arrive in mass, in an effort to eliminate a wait time.

Towns County Board of Election staff and poller, Kathy Norton, reported a steady stream of voters flowing into the precinct at any given time since early voting began on Oct. 15. “It’s definitely a much higher count than usual during a midterm,” Norton told FYN.

Additional counties in FYN’s area of coverage throughout North Georgia are reporting a similar spike in numbers.

State statistics show a nearly double increase amount in absentee ballots returned in 2018, in comparison to during the 2014 midterm election.

A heavy amount of voters continue to arrive at the Old Rock Jail Musuem, which was once the Hiawassee precinct, suggesting many could be casting ballots for the first time in years.

Towns County Board of Elections is located at 67 Lakeview Circle in Hiawassee. Ballots can be cast Monday through Friday during early voting, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The polls at the four Towns County voting precints will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p,m, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6. Towns County Board of Elections asks voters to have thieir photo identification in hand as they reach the registration area.

In addition to five state amendments listed on the ballot, two local referendums related to alcohol sales appear. The first resolution applies to county liquor-by-the-drink sales at licensed establishments. The second choice concerns the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays within Hiawassee city limits, cited as the “Brunch Resolution,” which would allow consumers to purchase spirits at 11 a.m. rather than the currently prescribed 12:30 p.m.

Hiawassee residents will solely have the option to vote on the Brunch Resolution.

Count on FYN to deliver immediate local results as the totals are tallied on Nov. 6.

Hiawassee strives to add liquor vote to November ballot

News, Politics
Hiawassee liquor

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council is in the process of introducing legislation related to alcohol sales, with an item appearing on the agenda of the monthly work session, held Tuesday, June 26. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained that local restaurants holding alcohol permits, such as Monte Alban and Sundance Grill, would like to offer the sale of alcoholic beverages to Sunday brunch clientele. In addition to allowing local restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 11:00 am., rather than the currently prescribed 12:30 pm, the city strives to gain enough signatures to include a liquor package store vote on November’s General ballot.

Attorney Thomas Mitchell

Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

In order for the referendum to appear, 35 percent of Hiawassee’s 714 voters who were registered in the November, 2017, election must pen their names to a nomination petition prior to August 8, the deadline for a Special Called Election. Hiawassee previously attempted to collect the necessary signatures, falling short, with an estimated 170 signatures gathered. Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell advised including an additional ten percent “cushion” in the event a portion of the the signatures derive from ineligible individuals.

Concerns of tax revenue lost due to residents and tourists traveling to Clay County, North Carolina, to purchase liquor were addressed at a Towns County Civic Association meeting on Friday, June 22, and the notion drew no vocal opposition from residents at Tuesday’s work session at City Hall.

FetchYourNews met with Towns County Board of Elections Director Tonya Nichols on the morning of Wednesday, June 27, to learn the details of the endeavor. Local governments have broad powers, conferred by state law, to regulate the manufacturing, distributing, and selling of alcoholic beverages. Cities have the authority to determine whether the sale of distilled spirits may take place within the city limits, independent of whether the county in which the city is located has authorized sales. Liquor by the drink, which allows establishments to serve spirits, was adopted in Hiawassee in 2017, after receiving approval from the majority of voters the previous year.

The manner in which the petition will be circulated for signatures is undetermined at the time of publication.

In county news, Towns Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw plans to include a liquor by the drink referendum to the November ballot, keeping with his campaign promise. “We will put it on the ballot and let the voters decide,” Bradshaw said.

Nine Provisional Votes Fail to Count in Towns County

Election 2018, News

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Election day has come and gone, and the deadline for provisional voters to prove eligibility in the general midterm arrived today. Towns County Board of Elections reported that of the nine provisional ballots cast in Towns County, all were submitted out-of-precinct, meaning that nine local votes will not increase the state sum.

When a voter’s eligibility is in question, a provisional ballot is used to record a vote in Georgia.Towns County election

FYN was at the Hiawassee election precinct when one such provisional voter arrived at the polls, minutes before the closing bell on election night. After exiting the ballot box shortly after 8 pm, a man who identified himself as Sunni Wolfe agreed to speak on-record with FYN’s reporter. Wolfe, who could not produce identification for poll workers, claimed to be homeless and living at an undisclosed campground in the Towns County area. Wolfe explained that he left the metro Atlanta area five months prior, and did not have a local address to register. Wolfe was provided a provisional ballot by election officials, and when asked by FYN, voiced no issue with the process. A record request obtained on Nov. 8 revealed that Wolfe was registered in Fulton County, however, resulting in a futile Towns County vote.

Election official Kathy Norton imparted that additional out-of-precinct voters arrived at the Young Harris polling location on election day, including a student attending Young Harris College who claimed that he had received an email stating that his vote would count regardless of a lack of local registration. According to Norton, each voter was provided with a provisional ballot.

“Anyone can vote, but every vote doesn’t always counts,” Towns County Board of Elections Director Tonya Nichols explained, “Georgia law requires voters to cast their ballots in the county in which they are registered.”

Towns County Board of Elections tests accuracy of voting machines

Election 2018, News
Towns County voting

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Board of Elections spent Tuesday, Oct. 2, testing the accuracy of local electronic voting machines ahead of the 2018 General Election. “In the simplest terms, the process involves making sure that what is pressed on the machine is what’s recorded,” Towns County Elections Director Tonya Nichols explained to FYN, “It’s something that’s done every election year in Towns County.”

A certified Information Technology (IT) specialist was on-site, conducting the study when FYN visited.

Towns County Board of Elections plans to operate a total of 20 machines on election day, divided between the county’s four voting precincts. Three machines will be available at the main election office in Hiawassee to cast early ballots.

Towns County Board of Elections

Towns County Board of Elections, located at 67 Lakeview Circle in Hiawassee

FYN inquired into reports of public concern regarding election hacking, and whether the Board believes paper ballots would safeguard the integrity of the election process. Nichols assured that it would be extremely difficult to rig the system, as each machine latch where the card recorder is located is secured by lock and key, and the voting ports are not connected to the internet. Nichols went on to say that altering paper ballots is a more viable concern as voters do not always fully complete ballots, leaving portions blank.

Georgia is one of 14 states lacking a paper trail for voters to self-verify.

The deadline to register for the November General Election is Tuesday, Oct. 9. Voters may register in person or online via the Secretary of State website.

Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 15, at the Towns County Board of Elections in Hiawassee. All four precincts will open on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Designated precinct locations are listed on the voter registration card received by mail.

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