Confusion over firing Fulton election head continues; state monitor weighs in

Fulton County election chief Richard Barron listens during a press conference as the presidential recount gets under way Wednesday morning, Nov. 25, 2020 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.  County election workers across Georgia have begun an official machine recount of the roughly 5 million votes cast in the presidential race in the state. The recount was requested by President Donald Trump after certified results showed him losing the state to Democrat Joe Biden by 12,670 votes, or 0.25%. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
Fulton County election chief Richard Barron listens during a press conference as the presidential recount gets under way Wednesday morning, Nov. 25, 2020 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. County election workers across Georgia have begun an official machine recount of the roughly 5 million votes cast in the presidential race in the state. The recount was requested by President Donald Trump after certified results showed him losing the state to Democrat Joe Biden by 12,670 votes, or 0.25%. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The Fulton County Commission made no decision on the county elections director’s firing Wednesday, hours after a state monitor said the ouster of Richard Barron alone wouldn’t fix Fulton’s long-running problems.

Fulton’s elections board voted to fire Barron on Tuesday, and since then it has been an open question as to whether that decision must be ratified by a majority of the county commission, which met in closed-door executive session for nearly two hours Wednesday.

After the meeting, a county spokeswoman provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a statement saying Barron was still elections director, “so for that reason no interim [director] has been named and we are not aware of any plans to do so at this time.”

The inaction leaves the fate of elections supervision in Georgia’s largest county uncertain for at least another two weeks.

Commissioners tried to resolve Barron’s firing. But motions to approve and reject the firing failed along party-line votes, with Democrats voting to save Barron and Republicans voting to sack him.

The commission couldn’t muster a majority because Democratic Commissioner Natalie Hall wouldn’t vote, saying: “I don’t have enough info to make an honest and fair decision.”

ExploreFulton board votes to fire election director

Republican Commissioner Bob Ellis said commissioners shouldn’t have a say in the elections board’s decision because it is an independent body.

“The dabbling of elected officials in elections is a very slippery slope and something which leads to a lot of untoward consequences,” Ellis said.

Barron, who has led Fulton’s elections since 2013, declined to comment Wednesday.

ExploreFulton quickly implemented lessons from June election debacle, emails show

The elections board initially voted to fire Barron in a closed-door executive session on Feb. 11 — an action that appeared to violate the state’s open meetings law. The board reconvened Tuesday and made their decision official with a public vote.

City elections, including a contested Atlanta mayoral race, are eight months away.

Barron received heavy criticism — even from those commissioners who voted Wednesday to keep him — following the June primary, when some voters waited in line for hours, many because they never received mail-in ballots after Fulton’s system was overwhelmed.

After June, the State Elections Board approved a negotiated consent order with Fulton. Part of the deal was a monitor who observed and reported on the county’s handling of the presidential and Senate elections.

Voters finally got to the machines after a glitch forestalled voting on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Voters finally got to the machines after a glitch forestalled voting on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The monitor, Carter Jones, told the State Election Board on Wednesday about the disorganization and poor accounting of ballots in the “chaos” of the November presidential election. But that’s not all Barron’s fault, he said.

“I do not think it is rotten to the core, but I also think that firing Rick is not a magic shortcut to fixing the problems,” said Jones, who has experience observing elections in developing countries for the International Republican Institute.

He said a new director would need “a Herculean effort if they have no power to replace some of the people that are our big problems within the system … there needs to be some managerial shake-up.”

Jones said he saw many problems but nothing to indicate fraud that would have altered the outcome of the election.

At no point during his 270 hours observing Fulton’s elections between October and January did Jones “see any illegality, fraud or intentional malfeasance.”

“That being said, I did, unfortunately, see a lot of sloppy processes,” he said.

Georgia SOS slams 'tsunami of disinformation' at committee hearing on election results
Georgia SOS slams 'tsunami of disinformation' at committee hearing on election results

Secretary of State Brad Raffenpserger, the chairman of the State Election Board, said Fulton’s issues contributed to a narrative about problems statewide.

“It creates a lack of confidence in the results from Fulton County, and that’s why it’s a critical issue,” Raffensperger said. “It didn’t affect the outcome of the election, but it created tremendous distrust.”

The state board’s lone Democratic Party member, David Worley, said President Donald Trump was more responsible than Fulton for promoting suspicions about the election.

“One reason there is distrust in the election system is because one figure in the country spent months and months and months sowing distrust,” Worley said. “That is not going to be solved by tinkering with Fulton County’s election processes.”

State Election Board members said they want to continue outside monitoring of Fulton’s elections office, a provision the county agreed to last fall as part of an agreement with the state that avoided a potential $50,000 fine.

Credit: WSBTV Videos

Fulton election board votes to fire its election director but unclear if it has authority to do so

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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