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Fulton County task force delivers report on chaotic primary

Boxes of mail-in ballots will be recorder by Fulton County employees as they continue to count mail-in ballots the day after the Georgia primary election at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, June 10. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Boxes of mail-in ballots will be recorder by Fulton County employees as they continue to count mail-in ballots the day after the Georgia primary election at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, June 10. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A task force examining the chaotic June 9 primary in Fulton County delivered a 12-page report Thursday with recommendations for curbing long lines, training staff confused by new voting machines and other problems that put an unwanted national spotlight on metro Atlanta.

Among the suggestions: get more precincts with properly trained staff, create a portal/internal tracking system for absentee-by-mail applications and check the power grids at every precinct at least 24 hours before so machines won’t be left powerless again.

Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts assigned a 20-person task force with finding solutions, without pointing fingers, to fix issues that plagued the election, that also included a faulty absentee ballot system.

“Everybody needs to step up and do unprecedented things instead of worry about who gets credit,” said task force leader and business executive A.J. Jain.

Minutes after polls closed June 9, the state accused Fulton and other counties of mismanagement, the counties blamed their election boards and election boards criticized the state.


READ | Fulton certifies rocky election results; commissioner contests race


Other counties certainly had trouble with the unprecedented task of implementing a new elections system in the middle of a pandemic, but Fulton was the epicenter of issues. Democrat-led Fulton is an easy foil for the Republican-run state, given the county's history of election mess-ups. Fulton is likely to have problems, considering it is home to a tenth of the state's population.

Jain said he thinks the group has given Fulton’s elections department head Richard Barron a good game plan, but is worried about implementation because it also takes buy-in from the county.

When asked about Barron, Pitts said: “He will have everything he needs at his disposal, so now it will be the execution.”

Barron told officials he is working with the county manager to improve conditions for the August run-off, which has early voting starting July 20. But high-profile November presidential election will be the true test. Barron said he expects 300,000 to 400,000 mail-in ballots for that election. That means basically running an entirely new operation while also managing in-person voting.

He said the county will likely use an outside firm to mail ballots in November.

As for problems at the polls, Barron said technicians will meet with poll workers at 3 a.m. on Election Day to get everything set up and turned on. A technician will also stay at the site all day,which didn’t happen in June. Barron said a “silver lining” of debacle has been civic groups offering help.


READ | Changes to Georgia elections proposed to avoid repeat in November


Between 400 and 500 poll workers dropped out or didn't show up in Junemostly for fear of the coronavirus. Officials at all levels now agree they need more tech-savvy poll staff, especially younger people, to run precincts. Barron said the county will try to entice precincts that backed out due to the coronavirus by offering to pay for decontamination.

“I’m not hearing that anything’s really different,” said Commissioner Bob Ellis after Barron presented the plan.

Commissioner Joe Carn laid out the stakes, noting unsuccessful attempts by state legislators to reconstitute the elections board and take some power away from the county.

“The mistakes we make here can eliminate this department,” Carn said.

Elections board member Aaron Johnson said there were already some mistakes repeating, such as people applying to become poll workers for August but not hearing back. Barron said all the interest is creating a delay.

Pitts said he hopes all problems can be worked out ahead of November.

“We cannot afford another screw-up,” he said.

Credit: AJC

The Fulton County Elections Board approved State Farm Arena as a new voting location Monday. Channel 2?s Sophia Choi was there when the announcement was made.

Credit: AJC