An internal audit of Fulton County’s elections department found 10 administrative and fiscal management issues during the rollercoaster 2020 cycle that need corrective action.
Among the findings: a lack of standard operating procedures in the department; inconsistent procurement procedures; untimely payment of invoices; improper payment of services; inadequate safeguarding of assets; and inadequate departmental accountability and oversight of financial transactions.
The audit, which has not been officially released but was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday, also noted one concern over the misclassification of expenditures.
“Management should continue to ensure that appropriate corrective actions are taken to strengthen the internal controls and improve ... operations,” the audit says.
Though the audit doesn’t address the actual management of polling locations or the counting of votes, it will likely be cited by the those who support a state takeover of Fulton elections.
And it could spell further trouble for embattled elections chief Richard Barron, who was fired by the board of elections in February, then retained by a razor-thin majority on the county commission.
“The people that I talk to are happy to see the changes and the potential changes, and it just goes back to accountability,” Fulton GOP Chairman Trey Kelley has said of the potential takeover.
Barron wrote in an audit response that a COVID-19 outbreak caused him to lose half of his staff within a week of the November election.
He said all the tumult in 2020 “created various situations where tasks were being handled and processed from parties other than our own internal staff. This created irregularities within our scope and ability to manage or oversee certain processes and procedures.”
He added in the response that the extraordinary election cycle of 2020 made it difficult to keep up with standard operating procedures: “With six elections in eight months, followed by several months of recovery duties, it was difficult to sustain conventional tasks such as regularly updating SOP’s.”
The unpublished audit is dated Monday — days after the state GOP declared its intention to review the department, with the possibility of a state takeover of Fulton elections using the new Senate Bill 202 law passed earlier this year.
The report came to light when Commissioner Liz Hausmann mentioned the document during Wednesday’s Fulton County Commission meeting. She mentioned reports of missing equipment.
Indeed, the audit notes 15 of the county’s 260 routers (or 6%) “could not be physically located.” The missing routers represent a loss of about $5,500, according to the document.
“We were informed that the routers may have been sent to the wrong department for storage; however, as of the report date, the department has not located these items,” the audit says. “Failure to maintain proper safeguarding of assets may lead to theft, unauthorized use of County property and inaccurate record keeping and reporting.”
Barron wrote in an audit response that his staff are trying to find the pieces of equipment but says his department is inundated by requests for open records and discovery from attorneys. He added that they have already purchased an inventory tracking system and are set to begin training.
Credit: John Spink
Credit: John Spink
Barron and a county spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to expand beyond the written responses in the audit.
This is tough timing for Barron, as the state zeroes in on him and the department. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger tweeted in July that Barron should be fired.
“Fulton County’s continued failures have gone on long enough with no accountability. Rick Barron ... must be fired and removed from Fulton’s elections leadership immediately,” Raffensperger’s tweet said.
Raffensperger says he wants to protect Fulton voters from the county’s decades of elections mismanagement. But local Democrats, like Commission Chairman Robb Pitts, say it is a hostile takeover to alter elections results.
Barron has said he is being targeted for political reasons.
“I don’t think there’s another state in the union that has a State Election Board with the power to turn a non-partisan elections office into a partisan arm of the Secretary of State’s office. And that’s really what’s going on ahead of the primary,” Barron previously told the AJC.