Nearly 600 local elections officials across Georgia are on Jekyll Island this week for annual training ahead of next year's presidential election cycle. GPB's Stephen Fowler reports.

Nearly 600 local elections officials across Georgia are on Jekyll Island this week for annual training ahead of next year's presidential election cycle.

The Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials conference is where local elections supervisors, staff and appointed board members receive refresher courses on everything from handling open records requests to maintaining voter registration lists to cultivating community involvement in the elections process.

It has been a difficult season for those who work in elections in Georgia, as the state's rise in political prominence and national scrutiny has coincided with massive upgrades in voting infrastructure and shifts in when and how voters chose to cast their ballots.

Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state's office chief operating officer, applauded the group Monday morning for their work in recent years and not giving up the faith.

"We truly do lead the nation in elections now," he said. "We've gotten attacked and attacked and dog cussed and everything else that ensued... And y'all do a damn great job, y'all make us look good. And we appreciate it."

2020's election cycle saw the state undertake the largest-ever rollout of election equipment as Georgia moved from touchscreen direct-recording electronic machines to ballot-marking devices that print out a paper ballot with voters' choices just before the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed election offices with record absentee ballots and a shortage of workers and voting sites.

After former President Donald Trump lost the state in November 2020, attempts by Trump and his allies to reverse the results led to harassment and death threats for many election workers and conspiracy theories plagued local offices.

Then, Georgia's Republican-led legislature passed Senate Bill 202, sweeping 98-page election law in 2021 that made numerous changes to virtually every aspect of voting, including a plethora of back-end changes to how elections officials did their job. Municipal elections in 2021 and the midterm elections in 2022 saw more voter confidence, fewer long waits and little issue with voting, and while there are no major elections in 2023, the organizers of the GAVREO conference are looking to build on that momentum as a high-turnout presidential election year looms around the corner.

Ryan Germany, former general counsel for the secretary of state's office who gave a presentation Monday preparing local officials for the intensity of a presidential election with increased importance of the state, compared Georgia elections next year to a meteorological phenomenon called the Fujiwhara effect where two nearby hurricanes close in on one another and merge into a single superstorm.

"See that little space of ocean in between the two hurricanes? That's basically us," he said. "And they're both just colliding into us in Georgia."

There's always something going on in elections, even when there aren't candidates campaigning, and this year is no different. A big change this year includes the recent rollout of a new voter registration system, called "GaRVIS" (Georgia Registered Voter Information System) that should streamline voting check-in times, absentee ballot handling and the process to update your address if you move.