The elections director in Georgia’s most populous county remains in his job for now after county leaders failed Wednesday to take action on the county election board’s recommendation a day earlier to fire him.
Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis moved during a Board of Commissioners meeting to accept the election board’s Tuesday decision to fire Rick Barron. Three commissioners voted yes, three voted no and Commissioner Natalie Hall didn’t vote. The vote failed for lack of four votes, Chairman Robb Pitts said.
Commissioner Marvin Arrington then moved to reject the election board’s recommendation to fire Barron. The result was the same — three yes votes, three no votes and Hall again not voting, saying she didn’t have enough information — so the motion failed.
“Our understanding at this time is that the Board of Commissioners has taken no action on this matter,” county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said in an email. That means the issue will come back before the board at its next meeting on March 3, she said, and Barron remains elections director at least until then.
The members of the election board who voted Tuesday to fire Barron said the action was needed to address consistent problems with the county’s elections and to restore voter confidence.
Fulton County includes most of Atlanta and is a Democratic stronghold. The county came under fire after the June primary, when some voters waited in line for hours at polling places and some never received requested absentee ballots, among other problems.
Barron has said many of the problems stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic. Processing of absentee ballots was slowed after some staffers tested positive for COVID-19. The virus outbreak also caused poll workers to drop out, complicated poll worker training on a new election system and led to a significant number of polling places having to be changed or consolidated.
The secretary of state’s office, which has consistently criticized Fulton County, opened investigations into its handling of the primary and in October entered into a consent order with the county. The county agreed to make a number of changes and to have an independent monitor oversee compliance with the order.
That monitor, Carter Jones, spoke about his findings Wednesday during a meeting of the State Election Board.
“At no point in my more than 270 hours around Fulton County’s election processes from October to January did I see any illegality, fraud or intentional malfeasance,” Jones said. “Now, that being said, I did unfortunately see a lot of sloppy processes.”
Jones said he observed “systemic disorganization.” Under questioning from board members, Jones said the Fulton elections department is “salvageable” but that big changes and a managerial shakeup are needed.
“I do want to underscore that firing Rick Barron is not a shortcut to fixing the mismanagement inside Fulton’s elections department,” he said.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, an elected Republican who presides over the State Election Board, said the county failed to meet some goals in the consent decree. After a county attorney said she hadn’t seen Jones’ report, the board decided to wait until next week to discuss what should be done about that.
Raffensperger said that while there was no evidence of fraud that would undermine the validity, accuracy or fairness of the county’s election results, there is “a lack of management competency and it creates a lack of confidence in the results from Fulton County.”
Board member David Worley, a Democrat, said he doesn’t dismiss the secretary’s concerns, but he argued that the main source of distrust has nothing to do with issues identified by Jones.
“The reason there is a distrust of the election system is because one figure in the country spent months and months and months sowing distrust of the election system,” Worley said. “That is not going to be solved by tinkering with Fulton County’s election processes.”
After the general election, then-President Donald Trump refused to accept his loss in Georgia. He and his allies, including his attorney Rudy Giuliani who spoke before Georgia state legislative committees, specifically focused on Fulton County. They relied on selectively edited video and allegations of fraud that election authorities have repeatedly debunked.