Beyond the Ballot with Lynn Bailey

In 1978, Lynn Bailey had just graduated from high school when the Richmond County Board of Elections recruited her to work in the upcoming gubernatorial election. As with many high turnout elections, local offices were in desperate need of temporary workers to help complete their ever-growing list of administrative tasks. Although Bailey knew little about her new role, she brought with her a strong desire to learn and serve her community.  

Within a short amount of time, it became clear Richmond County’s investment in the recent graduate would pay off. Bailey rose through the ranks to become Assistant Director of the Richmond County Board of Elections in 1988. She remained in this role for five years before accepting the position of Executive Director in 1993, when longtime Director Linda Beazley resigned to serve as Richmond County administrator. According to Bailey, the formative impact of her predecessor’s dynamism and mentorship cannot be overstated. 

As Executive Director, Bailey has served on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Standards Board for 19 years and is a long-standing member of the Overseas Voting Initiative Working Group. These roles have positioned Bailey to better meet the needs of her county’s voters, approximately 900 of whom are active-duty military and citizens living overseas. Through the County’s strong relationship with voting assistance officers at Fort Gordon, Bailey and her staff provide timely guidance to those needing assistance in determining the most efficient and secure way to cast their ballot. 

During her 40+ years of service to Richmond County voters, Bailey has administered eight presidential elections and countless races for state and local offices, with each election having distinctions. Among these elections, “2008 stands out to me as one I’ll never forget for so many reasons,” shared Bailey. The Director recalls not only the elevated enthusiasm of her county’s voters but also the positive impact of advance voting. That fall, County residents turned out in record numbers during the 45-day early voting period and remained in high spirits despite waiting outside in long lines and bad weather. For Bailey, these events effectively signaled that she and her fellow election officials had finally won their hard-fought battle for early voting in the state. 

Although adapting to changing election policies can pose significant challenges for administrators, Bailey has never shied away from an opportunity to make casting a ballot more accessible and secure. As Director, she has overseen her jurisdiction’s adoption of direct-recording electronic voting machines and more recently, ballot marking devices.  

Georgia’s gradual transition toward a state-wide voting system has provided voters with a uniform way to cast a ballot across counties, providing numerous benefits for voters in metro areas where simply moving across the street can mean residing in a different county. “For a voter to come into a polling location and be able to leave with a feeling that their ballot has been cast securely and recorded accurately, that’s what this job is all about,” said Bailey. 

The confidence of Richmond County’s voters in the integrity of their ballot has emerged through concerted efforts by the Board of Elections to establish a strong relationship with the community centered around trust and transparency. When mistakes are inevitably made, being upfront and honest is crucial. “No one has ever been in this profession too long to learn new lessons. The key is to handle these situations through straightforward conversations and a healthy dose of leaving no detail unattended,” reflected Bailey. 

Given the increased frequency and speed with which election mis- and dis-information have come to circulate on social media, the importance of transparency has reached its zenith. According to Bailey, the prevalence of misinformation, combined with the impact of rapidly changing public health protocols, constituted a perfect storm during the 2020 presidential election.  

To best weather this storm, Bailey and her colleagues put numerous contingencies in place. Jurisdictions expanded the supply of poll workers through developing a high school poll worker program. Multiple ballot drop box locations were established throughout the County and an automated absentee ballot mailing service was leveraged to alleviate burdens placed on office staff. The Board of Elections also cultivated a deeper relationship with their local post office and elevated voter education efforts. “Many of these things occurred unbeknownst to voters, but improved the overall experience for them, and we believe, instilled a certain confidence in them that we were looking out for their best interest through it all,” said Bailey. 

Unfortunately for Richmond County, the 2020 presidential election was the Director’s last. As 2021 comes to an end, Bailey will be closing the book on her tenure in office and transitioning into retirement. As Bailey was inspired by her mentor, so too are those who have had the privilege of working alongside Lynn Bailey. For the next generation of election officials, Bailey bestows this advice:  

“Let the job invigorate and inspire you. Providing the ability for voters to vote and walk away knowing that their vote has been cast securely and will be counted accurately is imperative and we must take every measure possible to ensure that. If you are transparent, people see that and respond to it. Be tough but fair.  Be genuine and give people your time and attention.”