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Fulton receives $14.5M more for November election

By Ben Brasch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

Fulton County’s elections department last week received an extra $14.5 million to make sure the crucial November presidential election has none of the issues that made the June primary a debacle.

With the vote from county commissioners Sept. 2, the total amount budgeted for elections this year is $34 million. But it didn’t come without questions. Commissioner Liz Hausmann called the amount of money “staggering.”

The new money comes from a mix of sources: $3.5 million of local taxpayer money, $6 million in a grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, and $5 million of Fulton’s sought-after federal COVID-19 relief funds. 

The money will pay for more staff at polling places along with postage for the increase of mail-in ballots.

Hausmann in the Sept. 2 meeting asked Elections head Rick Barron whether he could assure the people of Fulton that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the long lines, missing mail-in ballots and ill-equipped poll workers that defined the June 9 cycle.

“Yes, commissioner. Yes. It is a lot of money, and my focus is on November,” Barron said.

For the first time since June, Commissioners Joe Carn and Marvin Arrington Jr. complimented Barron, saying they are glad he went out and got the grant money.

“I think they’re going to need every single dime of this money for November,” said Carn, who had lambasted Barron for the elections experience in southern Fulton and by mail.

Last week, Georgia’s election board released a report about the June election that shows more than 250 of Fulton voters didn’t receive the absentee ballots they had requested. Of that, 107 didn’t cast a vote, but it’s likely many more voters were also disenfranchised and didn’t report it.

On Sept. 3, the state board voted 2-1 to have the state attorney general’s office investigate the problems Fulton had in June.

Barron said part of the new $14.5 million will help solve one of the biggest problems from June: proper polling locations. There was a slate of last-minute changes because places like elderly homes dropped out of hosting a precinct for fear of exposing their vulnerable customers to coronavirus.

Barron said the new funds make it possible for them to woo back many polling places by promising to sanitize the space afterward.

On Friday, the county’s elections board approved a slew of polling place changes, of which affected voters must be notified.

Barron said they have made nearly 60 polling place changes in the last two weeks. He said he is nearing his goal of 240 locations. More locations means spreading out the number of voters registered to each location, with the goal being fewer than 5,000 voters per polling place. 

In June, there were extremely long lines at Park Tavern, which had 16,000 registered voters.

This list of new locations includes more than the standard library or church. The county has had to get creative and partner with new folks because of the pandemic. For instance, Dad’s Garage Theatre, Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion and the Sherwood Event Hall in Sandy Springs will host voters in November.

“We went through a very challenging election in June,” Barron said. “I think there have been a lot of silver linings in that.”

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