By Ben Brasch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(CNT) City News Talk #atlanta-ga
The State Elections Board on Friday approved a negotiated consent order with Fulton County, requiring the county to enact improvements in the way it runs elections or face a $50,000 fine.
Many of the improvements outlined in the order have already been instituted by county elections officials, after a disastrous June primary that saw voters waiting in line for hours.
Following the primary, Fulton’s county commissioners doubled the amount budgeted for elections to $34 million this year.
“In elections, we want to make sure that government works for the people,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a Friday press conference. “And that’s what people are looking for. They’re tired of the issues. That’s what everyone wants. We want a smooth election process.”
The June 9 election in Fulton was anything but smooth. Problems in Fulton became obvious early, with long lines and an unknown number of people who never received their requested absentee ballots. Raffensperger called for an investigation of Fulton’s absentee ballots during the last days of early voting.
That investigation found the county broke six state laws, although none of the violations “were the result of malicious intent.”
Every county was challenged by staff and polling sites pulling out at the last minute due to COVID-19, along with training poll workers on new elections equipment selected by the state. But, with a tenth of the state’s population, those problems were magnified in Fulton.
The county had prepared for 1,000 absentee-by-mail ballots before the pandemic — but concerns over spread of the virus caused 144,000 people to request mail-in ballots in June.
“In some ways, Fulton County achieve remarkable success. In some ways it did not,” according to the consent order.
The order laid out several of the failures: 12 polling sites didn’t open on time; one precinct each in Hapeville and Fairburn didn’t have correct voting equipment, causing “substantial delay” on Election Day; two Fulton polling sites didn’t have proper equipment for voters with disabilities; and the county didn’t provide the required forms to ensure a proper count of the votes.
To avoid the fine, Fulton must maintain verifiable levels of operational competence by properly processing absentee ballots; keeping a force of 2,200 properly trained poll workers; providing at least 24 early voting sites; striving to process 100 voters per hour at any site; having a technical support staff member at every site; and creating a post-election audit.
The consent order also requires Fulton to regularly update the Board on its pool of poll workers.
The issue in the consent order requiring the most negotiation was over an independent elections monitor.
They agreed on Carter Jones, who spent time in Africa helping countries improve their elections, said Ryan Germany, general counsel for the Secretary of State.
“Fulton wanted to make sure this was somebody who was going to be more of a resource and not someone trying to play gotcha,” Germany said.
Carter will monitor Fulton elections and provide a weekly written report to the Board until any January runoff is certified.
“We’re very hopeful that Tuesday will be a totally different story, that y’all will be worried about what’s happening in other states, not what’s happening in Georgia,” Raffensperger said.
Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.