Facing a state investigation into its handling of last month's primary election, Fulton County will bring in a consultant to find out what went wrong and how to avoid a repeat in the upcoming runoff and November presidential election.
What that will cost is unclear because the Registration and Elections Board hasn't hired anyone yet, and some county officials are already questioning the expense. Elections Director Sam Westmoreland told the County Commission about the plan Wednesday as part of an apology for the array of errors his department made.
Commissioners responded with a severe scolding that lasted more than an hour. His department's missteps gave Fulton yet another black eye, they said, and they fear becoming a laughingstock if a debacle occurs in November.
At least two commissioners, Liz Hausmann and Bill Edwards, questioned why taxpayers should pay for outside expertise on something his staff should be able to do on its own.
"I'm not convinced a consultant is going to be the answer to any of your problems," Edwards said. "We looked bad, Mr. Westmoreland, and 'I'm sorry' ain't cutting it.' "
The mistakes included assigning some 690 voters in Sandy Springs and southeast Atlanta to the wrong state Senate and state House races. Then last week the elections board missed the deadline to certify election results by an hour and a half, leaving the county subject to fines by the State Election Board.
The end result showed several of Fulton's precincts had a voter turnout greater than 100 percent, including one with a turnout of 23,300 percent.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office has launched an investigation into Fulton's elections processes.
Westmoreland has said most of the problem involved redistricting. The state Legislature redrew district boundaries statewide earlier this year, meaning dozens of counties had to adjust.
The director said his office didn't get redistricting data from Fulton County Schools until two weeks before the election, exacerbating the problem. Hausmann said that didn't explain mixing up Senate and House races, which Westmoreland conceded was "absolutely a flat error in my office."
Westmoreland attributed the turnouts that exceeded 100 percent to a programming error in a system created by Kennesaw State University.
Commissioner Tom Lowe said he's convinced "some dirty stuff went on" in the election. But Vice Chairwoman Emma Darnell came to Westmoreland's defense, saying he shouldn't be publicly grilled based on media reports.
"I think we're moving closer into the bullying area," Darnell said. "I'm not comfortable with it."
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