Serving as a county elections director is a high-pressure job that, these days, often comes with hate mail and angry phone calls.

A small mistake can be interpreted by conspiracy theorists as a nefarious plot to subvert the vote—especially in Georgia, a linchpin of former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results in his favor. It’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, which is why a wave of retirements and resignations from county elections directors followed the 2020 election in Georgia.

But when Tate Fall, the deputy director of elections for Arlington County, Virginia, got an offer to become Cobb County’s new elections director last year, she wasn’t just elated. She called it her “dream job.”

“I had a [boss] who once said elections are like Hotel California–once you check in you never leave. I feel like that's really true. It’s always something new and fresh—every election is different, and I enjoy the intensity. I hate being bored,” Fall told Al ilmu. “I want to stay here and build this office and make it the best that it can possibly be–and someday plan to retire here.”

That’s a strong statement from someone who was still an undergraduate at Auburn University during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But that’s the attitude that led the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration to select Fall to take over from interim elections director Gerry Miller. Cobb’s previous elections director, Janine Eveler, retired in April after 12 years on the job. “It was difficult to find someone with the level of experience needed along with the zeal for this job,” said Cobb’s elections board chair, Tori Silas, in a news release. “We believe we have found the right person at the right time.”

Fall, who officially started Dec. 4, sat down with ACC to talk about voter confidence and her approach to Cobb’s upcoming elections, including the March 12 presidential primary. In her new role, she is overseeing elections for almost 500,000 registered voters.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Ryan Zickgraf: How does your past experience inform your your current role running Cobb County’s elections?

Tate Fall: I was at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in 2020 working with election administrators across the country, so I was hearing stories from Arizona, Georgia, Texas and New York. I got to see this really 30,000-foot view of what elections were looking like, which gave me a lot of perspective and helped me make a lot of connections. [The EAC serves as the federal clearinghouse for information on election administration, accrediting testing laboratories, and certifying voting systems. -Ed.]

I’ve spent the last two years as deputy elections director for Arlington,Virginia, which is very different from Cobb. It's almost 80% Democratic, and it’s a much smaller jurisdiction with about 175,000 registered voters. We still had very active elections, so I was busy overseeing poll workers and early voting. I also tried to build relationships with our observers from an election integrity group, just to make sure we were all on the same page.

I hope to do a lot of that here—create better transparency and more communication. All election administrators want to serve their voters—both the ones that trust us and the ones that don't. We serve them the same.

We all have the same goal of allowing all legally registered voters the opportunity to vote. I want to make sure that everyone in the public understands that we're doing everything we can to make sure the process contains as much integrity as possible.

There’s a lot of doomsday talk these days about the 2024 election. Do you think that democracy is in as much trouble as some people say?

I think democracy is on the side of election administrators, so I'm not worried about us. We will do our job to the letter of the law and we will follow those laws as closely as is humanly possible.

We’re talking about maybe doing one Friday a month where we have an open house and people can come in and tour [the election office]. So we're trying to increase that transparency to show that we're following the law. But we have to have that buy in. How do we get that faith and that trust back?

We can only have so many tours and open houses... Again, we're working internally to figure out better ways to get our voters to trust us.

Did you see the recent AJC poll that 57% of Georgia voters trust the presidential election will be fair?

I thought it was good—a majority, right? I think there's always room for improvement, and I'd love to see if they have a Cobb-specific number. But I felt positive about it, honestly.

For the 2022 U.S. senate runoff elections, about 1,000 absentee ballots mailed by the Cobb elections office didn’t reach voters during the advance voting period. That prompted an investigation from the State Board of Elections and lawsuits from the Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU of Georgia. How is your office making sure that doesn’t happen again?

We're doing a better job of tracking our [absentee] applications as they're coming in. We use a spreadsheet now, where we can go in and see where each application is in the process. That's done manually right now, so we have to figure out a way to make it more automated.

I promised I wouldn't change anything before the [March presidential primary], because the office had already started [preparations] when I got here. But we're constantly looking at ways to improve the current system.

How else are you looking to improve how the Cobb elections office works?

We need to figure out better ways to use innovation and technology, because so much of what we do has to be manual—physically putting [absentee] ballots through the scanner when they come in through the mail or physically testing each and every piece of equipment.

For things that don't require that manual interaction, we have to automate it. For example, we just don't have the time or the money to spend folding and sending out precinct notifications. Instead, we can send out postcards automatically.

“All election administrators want to serve their voters—both the ones that trust us and the ones that don't.”

Cobb County Elections Director Tate Fall

Georgia is one of many states facing a shortage of poll workers and election volunteers. Will Cobb have this issue in 2024?

We're really lucky in Cobb that we have a wealth of poll workers—our database has more than what we need. We have around 7,000 people in there, and we'll need around 2,000 [for the March 12 primaries]. We’ll try to work with other counties to allow our workers who’ve signed up to work in other jurisdictions.

How worried are you about protests and disruptions this election cycle from people who don’t trust the process? Are you getting any emails and phone calls?

It definitely still happens, but I’m not really concerned about it. Every four years, more people get involved in the [presidential] election, so it's natural to see that uptick in concern. We're working on more customer service and de-escalation training to help make sure that we're giving the best possible service.

I come from a military family, so I have a real innate sense of service. The county [elections office] really needs someone to come in and bring them back from getting so much hate and negative press. My role is to say ‘Hey, we're a team. We're one team, and we're going to get through 2024 together. It may not be fun every day, but we're gonna get through it and serve every single voter. Whether they trust us or they don't, we're gonna serve them. That's our mission.”

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If a Cobb County resident wants to get involved in making local elections better, what would you suggest they do?

We have a lot of pollworkers in our database but you can always apply. (Here’s the online application form.)

There's a lot of other ways they can get involved. The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan group that does a lot of work around election protection, such as [poll] monitoring and post-election surveys.

And then if people want to work with a partisan group, I encourage them to get involved in whatever way they want—volunteer with political campaigns, hand out flyers and literature—whatever feels like they're helping educate voters.
For more information about voting in Cobb County, click here.

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