It would be easy to lose track of all of the changes to Georgia’s voting rules introduced by 98-page Senate Law 202, but for local election officials this is not an option.

For three days this week, hundreds of district overseers, electoral officers, probate judges, and staff received hands-on training at the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials Conference on Jekyll Island.

The session dealing with SB 202 lasted over an hour, with the Secretary of State going section by section to ensure that no change went unnoticed.

While Republicans, Democrats, and federal lawsuits have focused on some high-profile parts of the bill, dozens of pages people don’t talk about more directly affect how local officials do their jobs.

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Some parts put more pressure on them, such as For example, tighter time slots for sending absentee votes, new procedures for reviewing motions, and shorter deadlines to ensure that every ballot is counted. Regulators have new responsibilities to provide more information about the total number of ballots cast and voting processes such as logic and accuracy checks of devices. Other sections provide more flexibility in the allocation of voting machines in elections with lower turnout, allow poll workers to serve in neighboring districts, and avoid long lines in crowded polling stations.

Charlotte Sosebee, Athens-Clarke District Election Officer and outgoing Co-President of GAVREO, said the conference and session were part of the compulsory training required for those conducting elections in order to keep abreast of developments.

“It is best if we go with a clear understanding of what these changes are in SB 202 and how they will affect our workplaces, from early voting to postal voting to tabulation for election observers,” she said. “And just to have a clear understanding of what is expected of us, so that we can create a fair and efficient environment for our voters and the elections, so that we can walk away knowing that we did the best,” we can do.”

There are still many questions about what some of these legislative changes will look like in real life – and many questions were asked about the intricacies of the changes over the week, but Sosebee told the audience they were more than capable of anything deal with what is thrown at them you.

“Senate Bill 202 is a big problem, but we will adapt with changes,” she said. “We’re going to move with the cheese.”

Elsewhere in the week, the Jekyll Island Convention Center’s sprawling ballroom was home to sessions on how to handle open records (always keep track of deadlines), how to handle media inquiries (always tell the truth), and take a look Postal voting changes leading to a therapeutic sermon from Douglas County’s polling officer, Milton Kidd, about the tough year election officials faced.

“You are all heroes and you are all the backbone of our democracy,” he said. “Without the ballot box, we would not have democracy. This is American democracy: sometimes chaotic, sometimes disorganized, sometimes all kinds of things. But this is America. The people in this room represent every aspect of America. “

2020 saw a one year roller coaster ride for elections, from the largest-ever roll-out of a new electoral system to a wafer-thin presidential race that was counted three times, including one by hand – all during a global pandemic that decimated the number of electoral workers for the United States Primaries in June and overwhelmed the offices in November with more than a million postal votes.

The COVID-19 crisis has closed election offices, changed voting behavior and ultimately killed several election workers across the state who were honored by an empty table at an awards banquet at the conference.

The numerous regulatory changes in almost every aspect of the Georgian elections aren’t necessarily a daunting task for Georgia’s local election officials – many of whom have spent decades overseeing the vote counting process. Even so, many ask for mercy as the new rules are put to the test.

Bacon County’s Ann Russell does many things to ensure her 6,900 voters are prepared for elections, including posting links to qualified information on Facebook, sharing news articles about the election, and answering any questions that may arise. Your advice to voters in Georgia is to do their own research of the changes so that things go more smoothly.

I just want voters to know they have to be patient with all of us because we’re just learning about Senate Bill 202 and it’s just going to be quite a process, ”she said. “And voters have to pay attention to everything that the polling stations publish: all the training videos, the ads that their offices run, the Facebook posts that we publish.”

Douglas County’s overseer Milton Kidd said voters could go a step further and get involved in the electoral process.

“There are things the average person can do: you can be a poll worker, you can work in polling stations,” he said. “If you have a legitimate interest in understanding your democracy, come to us.”

All eyes are on Georgia’s elections and the people who run them, and it’s comforting for Russell to get the education – and to be with people who understand what it’s like to have a stressful job.

“It was wonderful, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” she said. “I feel like I’m not the only one with questions and it was great to see everyone again.”

Camaraderie and education are critical to a group that has survived a grueling election cycle, and Sosebee said election officials need to be more proactive in explaining how elections work in order to drive back conspiracies and misinformation.

“I urge our group to be more available to our communities and provide as much voter education as possible so that they better understand the processes,” she said. “And that we are transparent in everything we do and that we are responsible for ensuring that we are transparent in the electoral process, because that is what we are supposed to do.”

The first real test of the SB 202 changes comes later this fall, with local elections with lower turnout ahead of a spring statewide primary and the high profile 2022 general election that will see hotly contested governor and Senate races.