Bill proposes remaking Fulton elections board after litany of problems

Voters wait in long lines, at times in the rain, at New Beginnings Full Gospel Church on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. The lines were taking more than 3.5 hours. This polling location opened at 7 am with only one machine of the four available working and had two of the four working at 4:30 and were not providing provisional ballots. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Voters wait in long lines, at times in the rain, at New Beginnings Full Gospel Church on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. The lines were taking more than 3.5 hours. This polling location opened at 7 am with only one machine of the four available working and had two of the four working at 4:30 and were not providing provisional ballots. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

After recent election failures, a Fulton County legislator wants to dissolve and reconstitute the county elections board ahead of the August runoff.

Long lines, poll workers unable to use brand new equipment and untold absentee ballots that never got to voters made for another embarrassing Fulton election on June 9. Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, hopes his two bills would fix those problems.

Like many of his fellow Democrats in the Fulton delegation, McLaurin places the ultimate blame with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, saying he didn’t do enough to ensure a safe election. But McLaurin said he can’t ignore Fulton’s issues.


“I think Fulton voters have fundamentally lost faith in the state and the county as institutions that can administer properly,” said McLaurin, who himself waited in line the last day of early voting for 4.5 hours.

Under this proposal, the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections would be reborn on Aug. 1 — which would be during early voting for the Aug. 11 runoff. The board and the county’s elections department work together to plan the election, doing things as granular as select polling sites.

McLaurin proposes evaluating the elections board chair every year, staggering the other four board member term limits, appointment power going back to the Fulton delegation instead of the Fulton Board of Commissioners.

The county’s current elections board chair, Mary Carole Cooney, did not respond to requests for comment Monday and Tuesday. The elections board has control of the county’s elections department director, who is currently Richard Barron. Barron also did not respond to requests for comment Monday and Tuesday.


READ | Pitts names members of Fulton task force to examine rough election


Activists and commissioners have said they think the Election Day failures rest with Barron.

Under McLaurin’s proposal, Fulton’s House and Senate delegation would be in charge of the chairperson, who would have a say in whether Barron stayed or left. And who would he want to run the elections board he’s proposing to blow up and put back together?

“I leave that decision to the entire delegation, but I personally will not be voting to nominate Miss Cooney,” McLaurin said.


READ | Georgia elections chief launches plan to avoid repeated problems


Fulton Commissioner Lee Morris defended Cooney, whom he’s known since they were in Emory Law School some five decades ago.

“I think she is one of the sharpest, smartest, most honest and least partisan person I know,” Morris said. “I can’t imagine anyone being more competent to head that board.”

As for taking the chairperson appointment power out of the hands of the him and his fellow, Morris, a Republican, said: “As far as who controls the make-up, I’ve never believed that we ought to fight about turf.”

He added: “I think sometimes bad facts make bad law.”

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Voters at the Johns Creek Environmental Campus found themselves waiting upwards of 30 to 50 minutes in line Tuesday on Election Day. New voting machines were the initial cause for the long lines, but also the precinct hosts three percents in one because of Covid-19 precautions. (Video by Ryon Horne/AJC)