Fulton election violations may cost $180,000


A host of violations

Below are few of the 30 violations outlined in a proposed consent order between the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections and the State Election Board. To view the complete consent order, visit myajc.com.

  • During advance voting for the 2008 general election, voting machines were kept in an unlocked auditorium. The machines were not under official supervision and were not interlocked with a chain or cable.
  • The county failed to place the voters from about 10 streets in their proper precincts prior to the 2012 primary election. About 60 voters were assigned to an incorrect precinct.
  • The county failed to include 423 voters on the supplemental list of electors for the 2012 general election.

  • The county improperly rejected the ballots of 11 voters who were not included on the list of electors or the supplemental list of electors for the 2012 general election.
  • The elections department failed to adequately train some poll workers in provisional ballot procedures or identify which responsible poll workers failed to understand provisional ballot procedures in certain precincts.
  • County poll workers failed to offer provisional ballots to at least five electors due to an apparent shortage of available provisional ballots during the 2012 general election.

HOW WE GOT THE STORY

In the wake of significant problems at the polls in 2012, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed flaws in Fulton County’s handling of elections. The newspaper has followed the subsequent Secretary of State investigation, which resulted in a settlement agreement now under consideration by the Fulton Board of Commissioners.

Fulton County would pay $180,000 for numerous violations of state law during 2008 and 2012 elections under a proposed settlement with the State Election Board.

The settlement would require the county to admit to 30 violations. Among them: improperly rejecting the ballots of some voters, mishandling the registrations of hundreds more, and failing to adequately train poll workers. Most of the violations stem from the chaotic 2012 general election, when thousands of Fulton voters were forced to cast provisional ballots because their names didn’t appear on registration lists at the polls.

Under a consent order to be considered by the Fulton Board of Commissioners Wednesday, the county would pay a $150,000 civil penalty and another $30,000 to cover the costs of the Secretary of State’s investigation.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp declined to comment Monday. The State Election Board, chaired by Kemp, must also approve the settlement.

Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said it’s time for the county to admit its mistakes and move on. She noted that since 2012 the county has hired a new election director who has improved the department’s performance.

“This is an unfortunate blip in our history,” Hausmann said. “It’s extremely important that the voters of Fulton County have confidence that, when they cast their, ballot it’s recorded properly.”

The proposed consent decree would resolve a host of problems uncovered by Kemp’s office. Six of the violations stem from the 2008 general election and general election runoff.

Three more were from the 2012 primary election, but the county’s actions during the 2012 general election account for most of the violations.

According to a 2013 report by Kemp’s office, Fulton failed to hire enough data-entry workers to handle voter registrations in the weeks leading up to that election. That meant thousands of voters were relegated to a printed supplemental list distributed to poll managers.

About 9,600 voters had to cast provisional ballots.

The proposed settlement outlines a host of violations during the 2012 general election. Among them:

  • The county election department failed to include 423 voters on a supplemental list of electors used by poll workers on Election Day to determine who was eligible to vote.
  • The department improperly rejected the ballots of 11 voters who were eligible to vote but did not appear on the supplemental list. Poll workers also failed to offer provisional ballots to five voters because they apparently ran out.
  • There were numerous errors with handling or documenting provisional ballots. One example: Paperwork used to document at least 200 ballots was not completed properly.

Neither the Secretary of State’s investigation report nor the settlement agreement cited examples of voter fraud. But the documents portray a county that failed to take some basic steps to ensure the integrity of the election.

“When I read the consent order, it’s pretty specific about an awful lot of areas that don’t give you a lot of confidence in the election process,” said consultant Gary Smith, who did his own investigation of the Fulton election department in 2012.

As a criticism mounted, the county hired a new elections director, Richard Barron, in 2013. Among other things, he has revamped training for poll workers and increased early voting to take pressure off polling places on Election Day.

Mary Carole Cooney, chairwoman of the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections, said the county has “made great strides” under Barron.

Smith agreed Barron has improved the county’s elections department. But he said it will take another big election to know for sure whether Fulton has put its troubles behind it.

“It’s a presidential year when you really see how well it works,” Smith said. “We shall see.”

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