Pitts: Fulton is ready for runoff election following June debacle

(Left to right) Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson, Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts and Fulton's director of customer experience and solutions Brigitte Bailey all take questions from the media via Zoom on Aug. 10 ahead of the Aug. 11 runoff election.
(Left to right) Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson, Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts and Fulton's director of customer experience and solutions Brigitte Bailey all take questions from the media via Zoom on Aug. 10 ahead of the Aug. 11 runoff election.

Fulton County government has “done everything humanly possible on our end” to ensure a pleasant voting experience during Tuesday’s runoff election, said Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts.

Pitts and other county leaders spoke with journalists via Zoom on Monday to address concerns still lingering from a June election cycle that, again, earned Fulton national ridicule for its elections mismanagement.

Some people waited in lines for seven or eight hours to cast their votes, and an unknown number never received their mail-in ballots.

There were many reasons for the failures: a flawed absentee ballot system that pushed more voters to the polls during a pandemic, last-minute personnel and precinct changes due to COVID-19 and under-trained staff using brand-new equipment for the first time.

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Since then, county staff has spent long hours and millions of dollars that they hope will pay off with an improved system.

“We have been working hard to restore the public’s trust with the elections process in Fulton County,” Pitts said.

There will now be an equipment technician at all 174 polling places, a bench of trained staff ready to hop into action should people not show up to work the polls and nearly three times the early voting locations — including the massive State Farm Arena precinct.

These changes aren’t free. County Manager Dick Anderson said Fulton had budgeted roughly $15 million to run the election but has spent an unexpected $3 million to $5 million on top of that amount.

Anderson said he hopes to use some of the $104 million that Fulton received from the federal coronavirus emergency CARES Act to offset the expenses — including sneeze guards at polling places and sanitizing some precincts that only agreed to open their doors if Fulton promised to disinfect afterward.

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Tuesday will be about more than the three races on the ballot.

“This is serving somewhat as our dry run for November,” said Brigitte Bailey, the county’s director of customer experience and solutions.

Nov. 3 could bring the largest turnout ever in Fulton, home to a tenth of the state’s population.

So even if the county does well with this election, there are concerns that a low-turnout runoff won’t be a true test of the still-evolving elections system.

When asked, Pitts said he is confident county staff will have learned enough to be ready in November.

Part of his reasoning is that November would theoretically be the fourth time people will have used the new equipment because there’s also a Sept. 29 election to fill the rest of the term for the U.S. House seat of late Civil Rights hero John Lewis.

But November is expected to bring out so many more people that it could very likely be their first time using the equipment.

“We got two shots at perfecting what’s going to happen on Nov. 3,” Pitts said.

Who's on the ballot in Georgia's 2018 runoff election?