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Commission Shakes Up Athens Elections Leadership

Jesse Evans (left) and Charles Knapper (right) at a November 2018 Board of Elections meeting. Credit: Blake Aued/file

The Athens-Clarke County Commission quietly replaced Jesse Evans and Charles Knapper, the chairman and vice chairman of the ACC Board of Elections, last week.

The commission voted to name Adam Shirley and Hunaid “Hank” Qadir to the BOE at its Dec. 1 meeting as part of a slate of appointments to various county boards and authorities.

Evans has served one four-year term and was elected chairman last year, when new appointees shifted the board toward a more activist stance in regard to expanding voting opportunities, such as by adding more early voting locations and extending hours. Knapper is a longtime board member who generally sided with staff and occasionally butted heads with the more aggressive Evans.

Evans has frequently been critical of Director of Elections and Voter Registration Charlotte Sosebee. For example, he opposed using new voting machines provided by the state, even though Sosebee said state law gave them no choice, and said she was wrong to blame long lines in 2018 on voters waiting until Election Day to vote. Evans also irked staff and fellow board members by pushing for a partial recount and refusing to sign off on results in 2018.

“I was doing my job, and I was being met with resistance—not just me, the board was being met with resistance by staff,” Evans told Flagpole.

While the Board of Elections generally operates independently of the commission, the decision regarding voting machines drew commissioners’ ire, as it led to costly legal bills.

In March, Evans led a charge to use hand-marked paper ballots in the presidential primary, rather than Georgia’s new ballot-marking devices, over the objections of Sosebee and ACC Attorney Judd Drake, who warned that state law required them to use the machines provided by the secretary of state’s office.

The State Board of Elections held a hearing in Athens, ordering the county BOE to use the state machines and fined the county $2,500, although the fine could have been up $5,000 for each of 1,000 paper ballots cast. Evans wanted to appeal, but the county board backed down.

Drake had recused himself from the case due to his opposition and recommended Thomas Mitchell instead. Mitchell then hired another attorney, Bryan Sells, and billed ACC $23,000 for himself and $18,000 for Sells. Commissioners were incensed that the Board of Elections incurred those expenses without commission approval.

Athens Politics Nerd reports that many commissioners agree with Evans that the 2018 election wasn’t handled well, but believe his combative style drew attention away from those issues. Commissioner Melissa Link told APN that she appreciates Evans’ “aggressiveness” in holding ACC elections staff accountable.

“There’s a lack of eagerness [among staff] to expand the franchise. I have deep, deep concerns about staff’s seeming reluctance to follow the direction of the board,” she said.

Still, Link called Qadir and Shirley “really good candidates.” Shirley served on the citizens committee that recommended SPLOST 2020 projects and, according to APN, Qadir is a computer programmer with technical experience working on voting machines.

Both will serve four-year terms, joining Democratic appointee Rocky Raffle, Republican appointee Patricia Till and fellow commission appointee Willa Fambrough.

Fambrough, who usually sided with Evans on the board, took to Facebook over the weekend to defend him, crediting Evans with expanding access to voting and mentoring newer board members.