Possible election takeover in Fulton delayed until after midterms

Performance review won’t be done until after 2022 results are certified
The  State Election Board of Georgia discussed its performance review of Fulton County's elections on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The State Election Board of Georgia discussed its performance review of Fulton County's elections on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Elections in Fulton County are safe from a potential state takeover — at least for now.

A performance review of Fulton’s elections management won’t be completed until after this year’s results are certified, an attorney for the secretary of state’s office told the State Election Board on Monday.

Only after the review is finished could the State Election Board consider installing an interim superintendent, who would have broad powers to close polling places, decide on challenges to voter eligibility and certify results.

The threat of a state takeover of Fulton’s elections has been looming for more than a year since the performance review began, following a history of long lines, slow results and allegations of mismanagement.

Fulton, the most populous county in Georgia and a heavily Democratic base, became a target of election skeptics during the 2020 presidential election, though no fraud was proved. The Georgia General Assembly permitted state interventions in county elections as part of the voting law it passed last year.

“Accountability and knowing that there are people watching the processes and make sure that they are trustworthy ... that’s what we want and what the citizens want,” said State Election Board Chairman William Duffey, a retired federal judge overseeing his first board meeting.

The performance review initially had an “aggressive timeline” for completion by the end of last year, but it has been delayed by the amount of work involved and the job responsibilities of election officials who are conducting the review, said Ryan Germany, general counsel for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The evaluation could be done by the end of this year, following observations of November’s election, interviews of county election board members and an assessment of post-election operations, Germany said.

Ryan Germany, general counsel for the secretary of state's office, addresses the State Board of Election with updates about fraud cases on Monday, August 22, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

After the performance review is completed, the State Election Board will hold hearings and decide whether to appoint a single elections superintendent to replace the county’s bipartisan elections board for nine months.

“We have had multiple successful elections this year. At this time we are fully focused on preparing for another successful election in November,” said Fulton County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt.

Fulton has been cooperating with the performance review, Germany said. But he didn’t discuss details of the county’s shortcomings or progress.

“The fact that they’re willing to allow a major midterm election to go forward under Fulton’s supervision proves the point that there’s no urgent crisis in the moment, and Fulton has done a lot to resolve its issues,” said state Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Sandy Springs.

The performance review is being conducted by a three-person panel of Germany, Catoosa County Election Board Chairman Rickey Kittle and Gwinnett County Election Board member Stephen Day. When completed, their findings will be reported to the State Election Board.

Members of the State Election Board said voters and counties across the state are watching how the Fulton evaluation is resolved. Other county election offices could face a similar review in the future.

“Having closure and moving forward is really critical overall, for a lot more than just Fulton,” said Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democratic appointee to the State Election Board.