Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
In 1988, Debbie George started working with the Macon County Board of Elections as a precinct assistant. As a precinct assistant that year, George helped run the local elections and saw Republican nominee George H. W. Bush defeat the Democrat candidate Michael Dukakis. Since her first year serving in Macon County, George has worked seven presidential elections, which saw five presidents elected in the United States. She watched the North Carolina District 11 Congressional seat move through four Congressmen, and worked through dozens of election days that resulted in Senate and House leaders, county commissioners, and town council members for the area. She worked her way from a precinct assistant, then a precinct judge and then a chief judge.
“Working the precinct on election day is how I got into working in the office,” said Debbie George. “Working the precincts also helped, I think, in training precinct workers, having been there and done that gives you an idea of what needs to be taught in the training sessions. I first started working as a one-stop early voting assistant in 2002. The next year is when I started working in the office part time and that soon grew into a full time position.
George is retiring after finishing her last day with the Macon County Board of Elections on Monday, July 31, as the director of the Macon County Board of Elections, a position appointed by the governor of North Carolina.
“I started volunteering at the board of elections about 15 years ago,” said Gary Dills, current chair of the Board of Elections. “Having been on the board four years, I know that Debbie has been a stalwart in the office for many years. She learned from the bottom up, pays attention to the detail which is necessary particularly preparing for an election, and most of all, always shows a positive attitude.”
George said that during her 29 years of service to the county, her favorite part of the job has always been the opportunity to meet new people and to serve her fellow citizens.
“Meeting new people and serving the voters of Macon County has been a favorite part of the job,” she said. “I also have enjoyed the friendships I have made with the poll workers as some of them I have known for years. I like people, so I guess that is my favorite part and the part I will miss the most. Meeting directors and staff from other counties was good too, all 100 county directors are very helpful and we all work well together. It helps to know you have a support team when needed.”
Despite nearly three decades working for the board of elections, George said that not a lot has changed. While technology has obviously changed the way elections are handled, the mission is still the same.
“We have always worked hard to run a fair, honest election to earn the trust and confidence of the citizens of Macon County,” she said.
While she has seen five presidents elected to office, several of which were elected to second terms, George said the biggest challenge of her career came during last year’s presidential election.
“It was the biggest turnout of voters in the history of our county,” she said. “It brought many challenges of many different kinds. Elections can be very stressful.”
George was selected as the director of the Board of Elections in 2014, after working in the offices since 2003. George was appointed to the position while the office was taking part in a federal embezzlement case due to former director Kim Bishop embezzling funds from the office. According to Dills, George help rebuild the office in the face of adversity.
“The Kim Bishop event was traumatic for all of the people working in the Board of Elections — volunteers and staff,’ said Dills. “Debbie was thrown into the position of repairing the damage. She did more than that — she made the office more efficient, put a kinder, gentler face on the office and modernized our equipment and approach. Of course she did not do that alone — Melanie Thibault (the new director), Gary Tallent, the Board, and the many volunteers across the county contributed. All the while, we never had any issues with election processes or tabulations. Debbie will be missed but she prepared her successors to do an even better job.”
George said the honor of working as director was one to be proud of and a great way to end her career with the board.
“A county director of elections is nominated by the local county board of elections and appointed by the Executive Director of the NC State Board of Elections, who is appointed by the NC State Board of Election members who are appointed by the governor,“ she said. “It has been a honor to serve as the director, and I appreciate all the support from staff, our county board, county commissioners and the state board of elections.”
While she is looking forward to retirement, George said she will miss the members of the board and the staff she has served alongside.
“I want to thank all those I have worked with these past years in this office for their dedication and hard work, I will miss them,” she said. “I am thankful for board members who were always supportive and worked very hard for the voters of Macon County. I will miss all the friends I have made and will treasure the time I had here at Macon County Board of Elections.”