Elections were different when Lynn Bailey first started at the Richmond County Board of Elections.
A party-like excitement filled the air on election night as one of the courtrooms in the Municipal Building became the hub of news while the votes were tallied.
“We had this giant chalkboard that was set up and had a grid on it, and we would move the ladder back and forth and put the totals out under the candidates name,” said Bailey, who retired as the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections at the end of 2021.
Those were the days before the internet, the days before cell phones. For those who weren’t in one of those courtrooms, the only way of finding out who won a local election was on the 11 o’clock news or the morning newspaper.
“There might be, oh, I don’t know, 100 people, maybe more in the courtrooms. It was the only way you could get up to the minute election results,” said Bailey. “So, it was a rowdy crowd, you know, a lot of joshing around in the room.”
Bailey began working for the Board of Elections straight out of high school 43 years ago. She heard the office was looking for some temporary workers to help with that year’s gubernatorial election. She admits she knew very little about what the office did, other than it had something to do with voting.
“I came down met the fabulous, remarkable wonderful Linda Beasley. We just hit it off instantly. She hired me, thank God, and it goes on from there,” Bailey said. “She served as I think probably one of the biggest influences on my life. She mentored me all the way through. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with it. And by that, I mean, see the value and the importance of the work that the office did. And you could see the passion in people’s eyes when they came in and wanted a ballot and wanted to register to vote and how important it was.”
Things were much different back in 1978, including the very process of registering to vote. People no longer had to prove they could read and write, but they had to raise their hand and swear an oath before a deputy registrar that the information they provided was correct.
“It was a very formal process; it was so formal that even the forms we used were all serial numbered,” she said. “And if one form had to be spoiled or voided for some reason, we had to mark it as spoiled and keep that form and be accountable for that form.”
Bailey thinks advances that make it easier to register to vote are “100% better” because of the convenience, including the ability to download and complete a form online. People must still provide the office with the original form with their signature to complete the registration process.
Technology also helps the office double check the accuracy of the forms, such as birth dates and Social Security numbers, with multiple agencies including the Department of Driver Services and Social Security Administration. They even check with the Department of Corrections to determine if someone’s voting rights are restricted because they are still serving out provisions of a felony conviction.
Bailey took a 14-month break, leaving the office in March 1987, to take care of her first child. She also had a second child, but she returned in May 1988. Beasley rehired her to be assistant director. When Beasley took over the county administrator role in 1993, Bailey became the director.
Looking back over the countless dozens of elections she has been involved in, Bailey did not hesitate when asked which was her favorite. She singled out the 2008 Presidential election because that was the year advance voting really took off, combined with the energy that surrounded the Obama campaign, especially in Democratic-leaning counties like Augusta-Richmond County.
“The way the law was structured we had 45 days available for advanced voting. People started coming in to vote, like on day 45,” she said. “I’m talking about lines where people were already standing in line for an hour or an hour and a half. And they didn’t mind. They didn’t care. They were so eager and anxious to get into the booth.”
Bailey said they expected it to slow down, but it never did. Then came the lesson about hot weather in October in Augusta.
“The municipal building had a different construction on the inside, and we had a very narrow hallway. And what we discovered is that hallways are not meant to be holding rooms. They’re meant to be passed through rooms. The way we discovered that is when people began to pass out in the hallways because our line went from the front door, down the hallway and then circled back around and came into the office. So, you had people lined up on both sides of the hall,” she said.
They set up a system to let in 20 people at a time. Hopeful voters learned to bring lounge chairs, books, coolers and umbrellas. And they would wait to cast their vote no matter how long it took.
Bailey has been part of two major upgrades in how Georgia citizens cast their ballots. In 2001, she was a member of the 21st Century Voting Commission created by then-Secretary of State Cathy Cox. Members traveled to review voting systems used in other states, ultimately settling on the touchscreen system that Georgia used for 20 years. In 2018, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp formed the Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections Commission to choose a new system and asked Bailey to be a member.
“We were able to find a system that the state ended up purchasing which provides a combination of touchscreen marking of the ballot but also provides a piece of paper,” she said. “And so, as we all know, following the 2020 elections, we really put that system through its paces when we took that piece of paper, and we did for the first time in my entire career a hand count of the pieces of paper. And what a good feeling it was to have it come out 2.01% of what the machine counted, and that the only variable with that was the hand marked paper ballots.”
Bailey’s last major project before her retirement has been the 2020 redistricting. It marked the fifth time. In 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2020, she was involved with the process.
“I remember, back in the 80s and 90s, in both of those times redistricting, we had giant maps, it must have been six feet by six feet, the table wouldn’t hold them. And we literally use colored pencils, too. In markers, too,” she remembered. “We first went in and marked the district lines with a bold marker and then we would take colored pencils and color in the streets. We had legal descriptions of where the lines should go. “We went down every road, every curve, every nook that was in those district lines to mark them on the maps.”
Her assistance, and pending retirement, were acknowledged at the Dec. 7 Augusta Commission meeting by District 6 Commissioner Sean Frantom, who served as chairman of the Richmond County Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee.
“I think it’s important that we honor this lady. Forty-three years, Lynn Bailey has been a part of this government and done amazing things with class, dignity and fairness,” said Frantom. “We appreciate all that you’ve done and as your last meeting up in these chambers, so if we can just give Lynn Bailey a round of applause.”
A nearly full commission meeting room responded, giving Bailey a standing ovation.
Bailey will stay on as a consultant to the Board of Elections, possibly through the May 2022 primary. The directorship will be filled by Travis Doss, who Bailey hired in 1995. It will mark the first time a man holds the position, succeeding Bailey, who was preceded Beasley, the first executive director for the office. Beasley followed Lucy Barnard, mother of the late Congressman Doug Barnard. Her title was registrar.
Ultimately, Bailey’s focus will shift to her family, which has grown to include five grandchildren. She looks forward to being able to choose what she wants to do and when.
“I love gardening. I would love to do gardening more. I think it’s something that I would enjoy,” she said. “You know, whatever. The typical thing that I think retirees do, will read when I want to, take walks when I want to, spend time with my family and enjoy life.”