After 36 years working in Bulloch County elections, including the last 11-and-a-half years as the county’s first appointed election supervisor, Patricia Lanier Jones has resigned from that role, effective June 30.
Her decision follows a uniquely stressful year for election officials throughout Georgia and a tragic one for Jones and her family. But she was considering a job change even before 2020 arrived, she indicated Tuesday in her resignation letter, in which she also said she hopes to continuing working for the county in a different role.
“A decision, that I have struggled with for the past 18 months, has been made. …,” Jones wrote. “I am not ready to retire from Bulloch County, the county has been good to me and I want to continue as a county employee with less stress.”
The letter was addressed to the three-member Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration and to County Manager Tom Couch.
Jones, now 59, first came to work for the county as clerk of the Probate Court in June 1985 when Gerald Groover was the elected probate judge and, in that capacity, election superintendent. Lee DeLoach, who became probate judge at the end of 1986 and served 30 years before retiring, came to rely on Jones’ help with elections and eventually advocated removing the probate judge from the role through the creation of an elections board and the appointment of an election supervisor.
After the Board of Elections and Registration was formed, Jones was appointed in January 2010 as its first and so far only election supervisor.
“I just need a break. I need a change,” she told the Statesboro Herald on Friday. “2020 was more than enough for right now. It’s time to let somebody else try it.”
Last year began with the arrival of Georgia’s new state-ordered voting equipment, using touchscreen devices like the old system, but with printers to print ballot summaries and separate scanners to record the votes.
Jones said she had thought about resigning at the end of 2019 but decided to remain as election supervisor one more year to see the county into the new equipment.
“I just didn’t know what kind of year I was getting,” she said.
Advanced voting had already begun for a March 2020 presidential preference primary when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted state officials to delay that election. They combined it with the nonpartisan general election and partisan primary for state and county offices, which was originally scheduled for May but then postponed to June.
Election officials here and across the state had to deal with social distancing for in-person early voting and election-day polling places. Meanwhile, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office encouraged paper-ballot absentee voting, at first by sending ballot request forms for the primary to all known registered voters’ addresses.
Ultimately, Bulloch County had four elections from June 9, 2020 through Jan. 5, 2021, when a runoff was held for both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.
That runoff came after then-President Donald Trump questioned the handling of the Nov. 3 general election in various states, and especially Georgia, with little evidence, verbally attacking two fellow Republicans, Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, for upholding the results.
In fact, Georgia held two recounts of the presidential results last November. Raffensperger ordered the first as a required “risk limiting audit,” but it took the form of a complete hand recount of that one race. The second recount, requested by Trump in challenging his narrow loss in Georgia, was done by rescanning the printouts and absentee ballots again. Neither changed the outcome.
While all of those things were complicating the work of election officials, Jones experienced a family tragedy. Her sister Bonnie Lanier Rushing was shot to death Oct. 23 at her home in the Leefield community of Bulloch County. After fleeing through Georgia to Florida, a Tennessee man with a criminal record is now awaiting trial for malice murder and other charges in connection with her death.
Jones took a one-week leave but returned to work Nov. 2, the day before the general election. In an interview during the recounts, she expressed thanks to her office staff and the poll workers for their dedication and to others in the community for their support.
Hiring from within
Couch, the county manager, said he is consulting with the Board of Elections and Registration to consider promoting a current employee as the next election supervisor. The office has just one other full-time and three regular part-time employees but calls in up to 150 poll workers for elections.
He also indicated that he is seeking to fulfill Jones’ wish for a new role with the county government or one of its agencies.
“If she still wants to work, and as dedicated as she’s been and with the skillsets that she has, I know that we can find a place to put her that will be very useful, and what more can you ask for out of a longtime employee who still wants to work but is just burnt out in the current function,” Couch said. “I’m evaluating that right now.”
Jones’ resignation comes not only after last year’s unique election season but also after Georgia’s Legislature passed and Kemp signed a bill this year making several changes to the state’s election laws.
“I don’t think I’m the first one in the state of Georgia that has given up elections after all this,” Jones said