Local officials brace for fallout from Capitol violence

January 6, 2021 Atlanta: Fulton County election workers resumed counting ballots at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 an hour later than election officials had planned. Fulton elections director Richard Barron told county commissioners Wednesday morning there are 7,500 absentee ballots left to be uploaded. Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said there are 2,700 left to be processed at Georgia World Congress Center. Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party. The adjudication process for those remaining ballots will begin today at 3 p.m. That means FultonÕs ballots wonÕt be uploaded until after 3 p.m., Barron said. The process will occur at the countyÕs English Street warehouse, which is where votes are actually uploaded once theyÕve been adjudicated. ÒWe have been unfairly, and IÕll state that unequivocally, unfairly criticized by any number of people,Ó Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a virtual press conference, Òno justification whatsoever.Ó State election officials said voting generally went smoothly Tuesday, with short lines and average wait times of about 1 minute. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

caption arrowCaption
January 6, 2021 Atlanta: Fulton County election workers resumed counting ballots at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 an hour later than election officials had planned. Fulton elections director Richard Barron told county commissioners Wednesday morning there are 7,500 absentee ballots left to be uploaded. Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said there are 2,700 left to be processed at Georgia World Congress Center. Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party. The adjudication process for those remaining ballots will begin today at 3 p.m. That means FultonÕs ballots wonÕt be uploaded until after 3 p.m., Barron said. The process will occur at the countyÕs English Street warehouse, which is where votes are actually uploaded once theyÕve been adjudicated. ÒWe have been unfairly, and IÕll state that unequivocally, unfairly criticized by any number of people,Ó Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a virtual press conference, Òno justification whatsoever.Ó State election officials said voting generally went smoothly Tuesday, with short lines and average wait times of about 1 minute. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Officials across the metro Atlanta area condemned Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol, but largely avoided discussion of specific steps to increase security at government buildings and election offices.

Deadly civil unrest erupted in Washington, D.C., this week after President Donald Trump goaded his supporters during a rally into storming the legislature over false claims of voter fraud that he said cost him the election.

Fears that election workers or infrastructure could be targeted in metro Atlanta prompted Fulton County to temporarily suspend absentee ballot processing Wednesday. County workers resumed counting Thursday under the watchful eye of sheriff’s deputies.

“We have a strong basis for concern based on security threats over recent weeks as well as awareness that there are people, including the President himself, who have singled out Fulton County as a cause for the outcome of the Presidential election,” said Fulton County Spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt.

Corbitt said Fulton has received bomb threats and “endless comments” on social media alleging they committed fraud, which has been disproven. The county sheriff’s office declined to discuss the specifics of its security measures.

Fulton County is on the list of Georgia entities and officials Trump has claimed robbed him of victory on Nov. 3.

The president’s efforts to overturn the election included a phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he asked the latter to find enough votes to reverse his loss. He mentioned Fulton County 16 times during that call.

State elections officials were similarly tight-lipped about any specific security measures taken as a direct result of Wednesday’s violence.

“I have watched in horror as Republican leadership remained silent regarding violence against elections officials,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said in a statement. “That is silence that will drive many primary challenges and numerous general election failures in the future.”

Trump is the first Republican presidential candidate to lose Georgia since 1992. The force of the reactions from some county officials and law enforcement underscored the leftward shift in Atlanta and its suburbs that helped oust him.

Newly-elected Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens, a Democrat and the county’s first Black sheriff, said the scenes from the Capitol reminded him of his deployment to politically unstable regions as an officer in the Army Reserves.

“What we saw happen in the halls of Congress must be a wake up call for our country or else we risk becoming like the very countries where we send our soldiers,” Owens said. “Domestic terrorism is real and it must be addressed.”

Owens also avoided providing specifics of security preparations around the county. Cobb spokesperson Ross Cavitt said the county had previously increased security around certain locations given the tension surrounding recent elections.

“The police department remains in close contact with state and federal partners and continues to monitor their intelligence updates,” Cavitt said. “Currently there is nothing indicating any threat involving Cobb County, but if something emerges we will act appropriately.”

Security reviews in progress

Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said he instructed Clayton Police Chief Kevin Roberts on Wednesday to review the department’s plans to protect government buildings and people. He also told Roberts to make sure emergency law enforcement agreements with cities in the county and jurisdictions in other metro Atlanta communities are up to date.

There have not been threats to the county, he said.

In DeKalb, county commissioners said the atmosphere was calm but that law enforcement was remaining vigilant.

Dele Lowman Smith, a DeKalb County Board of Elections member, said she was not surprised by what she called “anti-democratic” violence this week given the escalating rhetoric.

Gwinnett County Commission Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson said she was not aware of any threats against Gwinnett, but said the Sheriff’s Office is on alert and monitoring local intelligence.

”We are in a changing of the guard,” Hendrickson said of her personal safety. “There’s always a need to be very cautious of new surroundings.”