Controversy persists in Jonesboro over control of city elections

Controversy over who should be in charge of the city’s elections continues in Jonesboro. 

Several people spoke before the Jonesboro City Council on Monday night, saying they want them to reverse their decision to have municipal elections handled by city staff and at city polling locations. 

A month ago, the council voted 5-1 to have the city run its own elections again.

City council members say that’s how it was always done until 2016, when Clayton County took over their elections. 

Rep. Eric Bell, a Democrat who represents the Jonesboro area, says partnering with the county would mean more polling places and that those places would stay open longer.

"So here's our opportunity where we can actually have more people engaged in the voting process, increase the numbers…so why are we backtracking? What are we doing here?" Bell said. 

Leader of voting advocacy group URGE, Toni J. Watkins, says they believe the city council is knowingly committing voter suppression. 

"To deviate from something that evidently worked, especially for the marginalized populations that we want to mobilize, you have to ask what motivation could there be other than intentional and knowingly being racist and attempting to suppress the vote?" Watkins said. 

But city council members spoke to FOX 5 during a break in the meeting denied that claim. 

They claimed the issue at hand is just about not having to outsource the election to the county.   

Janet Britt, a 30-year resident of Jonesboro, says she agrees that the city should run its own elections. 

"I feel it’s the city’s responsibility to take care of the city," Britt said.   

Three weeks ago, the mayor, Dr. Donya Sartor, called an emergency meeting to address voter concerns. 

But the five city council members who originally voted to run elections again didn’t show up to it. 

The mayor held a town hall instead to hear voter concerns. 

But Monday, city council members said she was out of line and should’ve ended the meeting when there were not enough council members present. 

Mayor Sartor and Mayor Pro Tem Stacey Messick got into a heated exchange in the meeting over this, with each talking over the other one. 

Mayor Sartor claims the Jonesboro City Council members knew about the meeting ahead of time that she wasn’t given enough notice that council members wouldn’t be able to attend. 

While Messick claims that she and the other council members gave her plenty of heads up that they wouldn’t be able to attend.