Georgia election board votes against Fulton for primary problems

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and State Election Board member Matt Mashburn listen to Amanda Clark Palmer, an attorney for Fulton County, during a hearing Thursday about problems during Georgia's primary election.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and State Election Board member Matt Mashburn listen to Amanda Clark Palmer, an attorney for Fulton County, during a hearing Thursday about problems during Georgia's primary election.

The State Election Board voted Thursday for the attorney general’s office to investigate late-opening polling places, missing voting equipment and poorly trained poll workers in Fulton County during Georgia’s June 9 primary election.

An attorney for Fulton opposed the 2-1 vote, saying the county was being “vilified” for problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic that kept polls open late in 20 counties statewide.

The board’s vote is its second action in a week against Fulton, which experienced some of the longest lines during the primary. The board prioritized the complaints against Fulton, the state’s most populated county, hearing them less than three months after the primary while other cases can take years.

Voters struggled with hours-long waits in polling places overloaded by high turnout, social-distancing requirements, precinct relocations and rookie poll workers.

“The employees of the Fulton County Board of Elections exhibited heroic efforts to conduct a successful and inclusive election,” said Amanda Clark Palmer, an attorney for the county. “They do not deserve to be vilified, and yet this is how they feel right now, being the only county that has been called to account before this board for the June 9 election.”

After some polling places closed their doors because of COVID-19, over 16,000 registered voters were assigned to a single voting location in Piedmont Park, where it took over three hours to vote. Precincts opened late when equipment wasn’t delivered on time, poll workers struggled to operate new voting equipment, and they often didn’t know how to use emergency paper ballots.

“For the voter who comes at 7 and asks for time off or to come in late to work and has to leave because the polling place didn’t open, for that one voter, that is 100% denial or impairment of that person’s right to vote,” State Election Board member Anh Le said.

The board member who opposed referring the case to the attorney general’s office, David Worley, said it wasn’t fair to single out Fulton for coronavirus-related problems that were beyond the county’s control.

“Fulton County did the best that they reasonably could be expected to do under the circumstances of the pandemic,” Worley said. “We have to consider this in light of the pandemic and the large number of precincts where the church or the school often decided at the very last minute they would not be polling places.”

In last week’s meeting, the State Election Board unanimously supported an investigation by the attorney general’s office into whether Fulton officials broke state laws for handling absentee ballot applications. Over 250 Fulton voters complained that they never received the absentee ballots they had applied for, and 107 of those didn’t end up casting a vote.

The attorney general’s office will review the cases and consider how to move forward. It could bring the cases to an administrative law judge or negotiate an agreement with the county.

Alleged violations by Fulton County

  • At least 12 polling places opened after 7 a.m.
  • A voter reported equipment was missing to assist people with disabilities.
  • Polling places lacked necessary forms including recap sheets and an adequate number of provisional ballot envelopes.
  • Poll workers lacked adequate training.
  • The Fairburn and Hapeville precincts didn’t receive correct voting equipment before election day.

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