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Voters, officials want more solutions from Fulton elections board

(Left to right) Fulton elections chief Blake Evans, Fulton s director of registration and elections Richard Barron, and registration chief Ralph Jones Sr. present during a Thursday, June 11, 2020 meeting of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections.
(Left to right) Fulton elections chief Blake Evans, Fulton s director of registration and elections Richard Barron, and registration chief Ralph Jones Sr. present during a Thursday, June 11, 2020 meeting of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections.

Following a Tuesday election marred by long lines and technical issues, voters and elected officials on Thursday lobbed complaints and concerns at the board in charge of running Fulton County elections.

It is the first time the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections has met since polls closed, capping a day that has left Fulton the subject of national ridicule, a political fight and multiple investigations.

The board spent the first two hours of its 10 a.m. Zoom meeting listening to public comment. The message was simple: Do better.

Many who spoke complained of more issues in southern Fulton than were seen on the Northside. Officials say that’s because southern turnout was higher.

“What I witnessed myself was a tragedy,” said Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, Fulton commissioner-elect to represent a Southside district. “We look like the laughingstock when it comes to protecting voter rights, and we must do better.”


READ | Virus, lack of preparation lead to Fulton County election disaster


Georgia's counties had to manage one crisis stacked on top of another — and did so after getting a new system of elections equipment from the state.

Considering it's the most populous county in the state, and with its history of election foul-ups, Fulton was always going to attract the most attention. And with everyone watching, it failed to competently adjust to precincts and poll workers dropping out over concerns from COVID-19.

Fulton’s current elections department head Richard Barron told the board that 10 precincts opened late on Tuesday, caused mostly by staff unable to work brand new voting machines. That caused lines to stay long, he said.

First-time poll worker Vanessa Kelly said during public comment that her precinct opened late because machines weren't working. She said she completed video training over the weekend after answering the county's emergency callout to hire 250 extra workers. She didn't get her assignment until 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Kelly said the older poll workers didn’t feel comfortable with the machines. One of the 90 techs the county hired to fix technical problems was there, but couldn’t solve the problem, she said. So she was given a voting scanner manual and told to troubleshoot the issue, which she did.

Barron said they intend to hire a consultant to review their procedures, specifically the backlog of absentee ballot applications that forced people to vote in-person. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed absentee ballot request forms to the state's roughly 6.9 million voters in hopes of keeping people out of lines on Election Day.


READ | New machines, same pain for Fulton County voters


But Fulton's servers were overwhelmed with emailed applications, and many voters never got their ballots.

Barron said he will work with the county’s IT department to get an auto-confirmation for emails. Many voters never heard back from the county.

He said they’re planning a survey of poll workers. In addition, he wants to talk with activist and civic groups to get input and ask them to help the county sign up younger poll workers who are more tech-savvy.

But board member Vernetta Nuriddin wanted more from Barron and the lieutenants at his side, elections chief Blake Evans and registration chief Ralph Jones Sr.

“What I’m hearing from the three top leaders of the elections department is that the three of you don’t actually know what to do to fix it,” she said.

Most everyone who spoke said they wanted this issues fixed before the August runoff and November general elections.

“I was hoping that … (you three) would have some type of plan in place or contingency that we can speak on right now because we don’t have six more months to convene councils and task forces because we have an election in August and an early vote in July,” Nuriddin said.

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)