Fulton hopes to have 60K absentee ballot results by 9 p.m.

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Fulton County elections head Richard Barron said he expects results from the tens of thousands of outstanding absentee-by-mail ballots by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

People across the nation are eagerly watching to see whether Fulton County — home to Atlanta, the South’s crown jewel, and 1 million residents — can help former Vice President Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump.

There are 63,000 outstanding Fulton absentee ballots, which is about 27% of Georgia’s 236,000 uncounted absentee ballots. That’s enough to keep the nation biting its nails and waiting on Fulton.

It wasn’t a smooth Election night landing. With the eyes of the nation upon Georgia’s most-populated county, there were some delays counting absentee ballots caused, in part, by a burst water pipe at State Farm Arena inside a room where ballots were being held.

There was confusion and finger-pointing about whether or not Fulton sent home those helping count absentee ballots before the tally was finished.

“We’d always planned to have the final ballots being scanned on Wednesday,” Barron said. " ... It was counter-productive to keep certain people here."

Barron said he sent home crews who had been at it some 18 hours, and left behind five people to scan all the ballots that had been opened for them until 1 a.m.

That didn’t sit well with Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has often been at odds with Democratic-run Fulton over its elections management. But Barron said everyone in the state stopped counting by 2 a.m.

No matter, Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts told reporters in front of Barron on Wednesday that he would have done different.

“It’s not a decision I would have made,” Pitts said. “We knew that Georgia is one of the state’s that will have a critical role to play in the national elections, as well as statewide.”

He added: “I’m concerned about what happened, if we could do it all over again it would not have happened, but it happened, so I’m going to look forward."

David Dreyer, an Atlanta Democrat and head of the Fulton House delegation, agreed.

“We wanted a more efficient counting," Dreyer said. "The eyes of the nation are on Georgia. Many campaigns, many people have put their heart and souls into making this country better. They’re waiting on the numbers that are coming out in Fulton,”

But he complimented Fulton on its massive improvement from the long lines and national embarrassment of June 9.

From left, poll workers Beth Claimo, Teresa Johnson and Karin Mueller wear masks and wait on voters to approach their table at Butler Street Baptist Church at 315 Ralph McGill Boulevard NE in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

“I’ve never seen a more dramatic turnaround in my 35 years of management,” former BellSouth executive and current County Manager Dick Anderson said Wednesday during an ongoing Fulton Board of Commissioners.

He was “very pleased" with the election, considering how the county handled early voting and Tuesday’s small-than-predicted turnout. As of Wednesday morning, results for more than 444,000 presidential votes were being displayed in Fulton.

Anderson said they might need to look at the absentee process and how to deliver all the equipment to more polling places than ever.

A moving company the county had hired to deliver elections equipment to precincts backed out at the last minute. (Commissioners on Wednesday morning voted to delay giving a regular contract to a suite of companies that includes the moving company that pulled out at the last-minute.)

The county had to hired the movers after a COVID-19 outbreak of elections warehouse staff, some of whom would have delivered the equipment. In all, 25 of the 60 warehouse workers tested positive, and two are still in the ICU.

Anderson compared the scramble to get all the equipment out to Paul Revere’s “midnight ride."

He said the company dropping out affected more than 30 polling places. At least one polling place, The Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead, got their equipment at 7:04 a.m. but voting wasn’t delayed.

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Photojournalist John Spink contributed to this article.