Election board member in Georgia's Fulton County abstains from certifying primary election

The election board in Georgia’s largest county has voted to certify its May 21 election results
FILE - A voter leaves a polling site for the presidential primary election, March 12, 2024, in Atlanta. Fulton County, Ga.'s, election board voted on Tuesday, May 28, to certify the results of the May 21 elections. But one Republican member of the five-member board abstained after she filed a lawsuit challenging state election laws and county election rules. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

FILE - A voter leaves a polling site for the presidential primary election, March 12, 2024, in Atlanta. Fulton County, Ga.'s, election board voted on Tuesday, May 28, to certify the results of the May 21 elections. But one Republican member of the five-member board abstained after she filed a lawsuit challenging state election laws and county election rules. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — The election board in Georgia's largest county voted on Tuesday to certify its May 21 election results, but not before one of the board's Republican-appointed members abstained.

The abstention by Fulton County election board member Julie Adams aligns with her lawsuit seeking to more closely control election operations and to win a legal ruling finding county election boards can refuse to certify election results.

Reading a prepared statement, Adams argued she couldn’t accept the results given prior election administration problems in the county, and argued that the board has illegally given its powers to employees.

“It’s time to fix the problems in our elections by ensuring compliance with the law, transparency in election conduct and accuracy in results," Adams said. "And in my duty as a board member, I want to make sure that happens.”

The other four members, including Republican-appointed Michael Heekin, voted to certify the results in what Elections Director Nadine Williams called a "very successful election.”

In question is a portion of Georgia law that says county officials "shall" certify results after engaging in a process to make sure they are accurate. Those who disagree with Adams, including the Democratic Party of Georgia, argue that the law gives county election board members no wiggle room to vote against certifying results, saying the lawsuit is a ploy by the supporters of Donald Trump.

“Trump and MAGA Republicans have made it clear they are planning to try to block certification of November’s election when they are defeated again, and this is a transparent attempt to set the stage for that fight,” Democratic party chair and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams said in a statement when the party moved to intervene in the lawsuit on Friday.

The suit, backed by the Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute, argues that county election board members have the discretion to reject certification. It's not clear what would happen if a county refused to certify, although the dispute would probably end in court. A prolonged battle after the November general election could keep Georgia from awarding its 16 electoral votes on time, or prevent officials including county sheriffs and state legislators from taking office in January.

Adams asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville to grant her temporary relief before Tuesday's vote to certify the May 21 primary, but he hasn't acted. The suit is against the Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections, of which Adams is a member. The board hasn't yet answered the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cites a list of materials that Adams argued she should have access to before being asked to vote on certification. During proceedings Tuesday, the board voted to provide access to its members to at least one of the items demanded in the suit — envelopes that voters use to mail their absentee ballots to the county.

Some other documents sought in the suit may have been provided as well — county spokesperson Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez refused to provide a complete list, saying only that the staff “provided extensive documentation to board members in order to answer their questions about the May 21 primary election.”

Heekin, the other Republican board member, was largely complimentary of the information provided Tuesday.

“It was very helpful in evaluating the performance in the election, and I hope we will consider this as a warmup for the fall,” he said, adding that he'd like to find ways to make examination of documents go more smoothly.

But Adams said she believed she would need “days” to evaluate whether she believed results were accurate.

She also argues that the board must take back its powers from its employees, including the director.

“The BRE is currently a window dressing, and that cannot be the correct interpretation of the law,” Adams said. "Currently all important decisions are made by the staff and behind closed doors. If we have no transparency to the board, what does that say for transparency to the people we serve?”

Board Chairperson Cathy Woolard pushed back on that claim, however, saying the board is ultimately in charge of the staff.

“We speak with one voice to our director, who then takes that direction to the rest of the staff,” Woolard said.

Aaron Johnson, a Democratic-appointed member of the board, disagreed with Adams' position, saying she was disregarding improvements that the million-resident county has made in running elections.

“The problem that we have in Fulton County is the continuous misrepresentation of what actually is going on,” Johnson said.