Fulton officials defend election performance

In a public grilling by state regulators, Fulton County elections officials spent Thursday morning downplaying the extent of problems in the way the county conducted last year’s presidential election.

The county’s elections department appeared before the State Election Board, headed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, to answer for more than 100 complaints from last year. Among other problems, Fulton had more people using paper ballots than the rest of the state combined because of a backlog in entering registration data.

That led to paper ballot shortages and four- to five-hour waits to vote, the state alleges.

The board will decide whether to dismiss charges, impose sanctions or refer cases to the state Attorney General’s Office for possible prosecution.

Fulton Elections Chief Dwight Brower denied one of Kemp’s most serious allegations, that the main elections office was still printing lists of eligible voters and delivering them to poll managers hours after voting started Nov. 6.

“There were no supplemental lists actually printed on Election Day and delivered to precincts,” Brower told the State Election Board.

Brower said only two precincts received lists around 11 a.m. because, in error, they were not delivered the weekend before.

He said 19 precincts ran out of provisional ballots — paper ballots for use when people wanting to vote don’t show up on rolls — during the day. The state alleged that when more ballots arrived, sometimes they came in batches of as little as six. Brower said extras came in sets of 25, but sometimes runners gave extras to nearby precincts that also needed more ballots.

Interim Elections Director Sharon Mitchell told the board at the start of the hearing that she believes Fulton ran a good election.

The case has generated statewide interest, and Kemp has said Fulton’s problems demonstrate why the state Legislature should grant his office more power to intervene when the county botches elections. He called Fulton’s situation in November a “debacle.”

The hearing is being held near the state Capitol in a room that was filled to capacity early in the day, packed with poll workers, members of the League of Women Voters, elections managers from other counties, and county commissioners and elections board members.

State Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, said the outcome of the hearing could spur more legislation seeking to reshape Fulton County. Three north Fulton lawmakers planned Thursday to propose measures that would lower county taxes, give north Fulton another vote on the County Commission and allow county employees to be fired or disciplined more easily.