On the heels of Tuesday’s smoothly orchestrated runoff elections, Fulton County leaders were crowing about their performance — and declaring the county’s reputation for dysfunction dead.
“The false, negative narrative about Fulton County elections has completely fallen apart,” Commission Chairman Rob Pitts said shortly after polls closed. “There’s nothing to criticize us for that I could see. We now have a real road map getting ready for May of 2022.”
That’s when primaries for any number of high-profile state and federal elections will take place in Georgia and its most populous county. Pitts’ mention of the date — and the implication that Fulton would still be in charge of running its own elections — was not insignificant.
Tuesday’s turnout was light, even with runoffs for Atlanta mayor and several City Council seats on the ballot. “Dismal,” Pitts called it.
But that didn’t stop him, Fulton elections director Richard Barron and Fulton elections board chair Cathy Woolard from enjoying the smoothness with which things played out.
“I got absolutely no calls from anybody with complaints,” Woolard said.
Woolard praised both elections staff and Barron, who she said was “going out on a real high note.”
A three-member review panel appointed by the State Elections Board is currently looking into Fulton’s elections operations. Under the Georgia’s new voting law, the review panel could recommend a state takeover if it deems the county’s performance subpar.
Fulton does have a history of election problems, with long lines, slow results and administrative errors, but a state monitor last fall found no evidence of dishonesty or fraud. And, combined with Nov. 2′s general election, this week’s runoff marked two straight elections with few reported issues.
Barron, who is resigning at the end of the year, said the review panel was very involved in the general election and visited early voting sites this time around.
But he said that, as of 8 p.m., he hadn’t had “any contact” with panel members on Tuesday. (At least one panel member was seen observing vote tabulation later in the evening.)
“They chose three good people and they’re interested in being objective and not listening to all of the outside voices that are coming in at them,” Barron said.
Those outside voices include Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has pushed back against false election fraud claims perpetuated by ex-President Donald Trump — but continued to use heavily Democratic Fulton County as his favorite punching bag.
Raffensperger has advocated for a takeover.
“A lot of the stuff from the outside I try not to listen to,” Barron said Tuesday. “The secretary of state is going to be in a tight primary campaign, so he’s using us as a way to campaign for next year. So I can understand that.”
The soon-to-be-former director said he was relieved the final election of his often tumultuous eight-plus years in Fulton was coming to a close. But he got choked up recently when he was starting to pack up his office.
“I think it’s gonna be bittersweet as the month goes on,” Barron said.
About the Author
Tyler Estep is a reporter covering DeKalb County, its government and its people. A Gwinnett County native and University of Georgia graduate, he has been with the AJC since 2015. He previously covered his home county and served stints on the paper’s hyperlocal and breaking news teams.