State rejects Fulton election settlement

The State Election Board on Wednesday rejected a settlement with Fulton County for numerous election violations after Secretary of State Brian Kemp raised last-minute objections.

State officials say the county committed 30 violations of state law in 2008 and 2012 elections, most from the latter, when thousands of voters were forced to cast provisional ballots because their names didn’t appear on registration lists at the polls.

The agreement – already approved by the Fulton Board of Commissioners – would require the county pay $180,000 in penalties and the cost of the investigation; admit to the violations; buy a new election management system no later than Jan. 1, 2016; and operate a certain number of advanced voting sites during elections

But Kemp, who chairs the State Election Board, expressed reservations about provisions of the agreement that dictate Fulton County should buy a new election system and detail the number of advanced voting sites in operate. The board then voted 4-0 to reject the proposed settlement.

“I do have issues with the State Election Board mandating those things to a county government,” Kemp said. “That is a local control issue, in my opinion.”

One provision so definitive it requires Fulton to maintain at least 18 early voting sites for primary and general elections in non-presidential election years and at least 24 in presidential election years.

“We understand that 99 percent of the consent order is fine,” Fulton Elections Director Richard Barron said Wednesday. “In two paragraphs, Secretary Kemp has an issue with some of the language being too specific. Our counsel is conferring with his to negotiate the final terms.”

The Secretary of State’s Office will now try to negotiate new language on those provisions.

The proposed settlement covers some problems with the county’s 2008 general election and general runoff election and 2012 primary election.

According to a 2013 Secretary of State report, the county failed to hire enough data-entry workers to handle registrations in the weeks leading up to the 2012 general election. That meant thousands of voters were relegated to a printed supplemental list distributed to poll managers.

Among other violations, the settlement states that election officials improperly rejected the ballots of 11 eligible voters and committed numerous errors in handling or documenting provisional ballots in the 2012 general election.

Under the terms of the settlement, Fulton County would pay a $150,000 civil penalty, plus $30,000 to cover the cost of the Secretary of State’s investigation.

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