Derek Bowens was named as the sole finalist to lead Fulton County’s elections department this week. That lasted less than 24 hours.
Fulton’s elections board named the current Durham County, North Carolina elections chief as their lone recommendation at a Monday meeting. But Tuesday morning, county communications staff said he had bowed out.
“Mr. Bowens subsequently withdrew his name from consideration. The Board of Registration & Elections will meet in coming days to discuss next steps,” county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said in an email.
Bowens decision means Georgia’s most populace county is without a permanent elections leader just 50 days away from the general primary election, which will include the state’s red-hot Senate and gubernatorial races.
Fulton County is home to 10% of all Georgia residents.
Elections leaders acknowledged all along that this was going to be a hard position to fill considering the national scrutiny that comes with the job. That includes the threat of a state takeover and a national political spotlight.
About 45 minutes after announcing Bowens’ withdrawal, the county sent out a notice of a special called elections board meeting Thursday at 9 a.m.
Bowens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he made the decision after taking some more time to consider a personal situation.
“It was more so over the weekend, some things came to consideration for me personally,” he said. “ ... It’s a family matter that requires my attention here. It’s more important than anything else to me.”
Bowens said he didn’t know he was the sole finalist until he saw an AJC article announcing the board’s choice Monday afternoon. He said he was impressed by Fulton’s elections operation and by the elections board.
When asked if the pressures of death threats and national scrutiny played a factor, Bowens said: “I have zero fear or concern.”
“I think every election administrator was aware of Fulton County after the 2020 election,” he said.
Indeed, the county was at the center of a firestorm, with media outlets from all over the world looking to get an update from one man: A laid-back Oregonian named Richard Barron, Fulton’s elections chief since 2013.
He leaves Friday. No less than the former President Donald Trump accused Barron of committing a “crime” while citing a debunked election conspiracy.
Credit: Jenn Finch
Credit: Jenn Finch
Barron was at the helm during a disastrous June primary. The county elections board voted mostly along party lines to fire him, but he was saved by the Fulton County Commission. Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts has spoken well of Barron but said he needs to leave because he has become “a distraction.”
The elections department has a budget of $38 million, which includes $5 million in operating expenses. And that number could very well rise because it only funds three elections, despite the possibility of a runoff at the end of this cycle.
Elections board chair Cathy Woolard has said the actual budgetary need may be closer to $53 million.
County officials have said they need more money to address new restrictions required by Senate Bill 202. The bill gives the Republican-controlled state the ability take over elections in the Democrat-heavy county and disallow them from using grant funds. Fulton used $14 million in grant money last cycle.
The board announced two weeks ago that Nadine Williams would take over as interim director when Barron leaves. So it appears she’ll be in that role a bit longer than she thought.
The 9 a.m. Thursday elections board meeting is scheduled to take place in the assembly hall of the Fulton government center, 141 Pryor St. in Atlanta, and should be available for streaming at www.youtube.com/c/FultonGovernmentTV.
Ben Brasch is the reporter tasked with keeping Fulton County government accountable. The Florida native moved to Atlanta for a job with The AJC. If there's something important to you going on in Fulton, he wants to know about it. Help him better metro Atlanta by dropping a line, anonymously or otherwise.