The Fulton County Registration and Elections Board fired its elections director, Richard Barron, during a special meeting on Tuesday. Barron had served the role since 2013.
Members of the public and the board in favor of firing Barron cited a variety of issues concerning the events at State Farm Arena, chain of custody, rejected ballots, record-keeping, security of ballot transportation, and the dismissal of whistleblowers such as Bridget Thorne. In December, The Georgia Star News interviewed Thorne about her affidavit and subsequent dismissal by the elections officials.
Thorne told The Star News that she’d been missing 400 emergency paper ballots during the election. Additionally, she alleged that the entire elections process at the State Farm Arena was disorganized, and testified that she’d witnessed test ballots indistinguishable from live ballots, unsupervised and disheveled ballot stacks, and suspect conduct by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) members who’d allegedly used personal laptops to access the voter roll database while serving as absentee ballot “clerks.”
At that time, Thorne noted that no election officials had informed her the rationale for her dismissal.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Thorne spoke as one of twelve public commentators on the decision to either fire or retain Barron. She repeated a summary of her experiences during and following the 2020 election.
Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia (VOTERGA) Founder Garland Favorito also spoke during the meeting. Favorito scrutinized the open records request processes by the board, including missing meeting minutes for several meetings in past few months. He claimed that the county failed to issue the requested tally sheets documenting the recount numbers, including one submitted as recently as January 8.
“In fact, Fulton’s neighboring counties have simply emailed me these tally sheets within three days of my request,” stated Favorito. “This is yet another example of the historic systemic problems the elections division has had in fulfilling reasonably simple open records requests.”
Dr. Kathleen Ruth acknowledged some of these concerns in her summary of a 270-hour observation of Fulton County elections processes on personnel and technology use, synthesized into a report. Ruth didn’t respond to requests from The Star News for this report by press time.
“While there were definite improvements from June to November, the 2020 election cycle did highlight many vulnerabilities in the Fulton elections system. Errors, sloppy and inefficient processes that are really unacceptable. The independent, nonpartisan state election board highlighted numerous mismanagement and procedural issues of great concern,” shared Ruth. “[S]ome of the takeaways from that report reveal there were no chain of custody forms being used as ballots moved from room to room, mask-optional policy putting staff at unnecessary risk, no process to sufficiently protect spoiled and rejected ballots in the mailroom, using an outdated version of EZ-VOTE to check in voters, poor recordkeeping for ElectioNet, persistent chain of custody issues, ballots that were being delivered to State Farm Arena in unsecured mail carts which the monitor noted was very concerning, technology issues abounding during the recount, the server crashing on November 29 that was a costly error caused by a failure to properly follow protocols for backing up and uploading data to the servers.”
Ruth noted that the county, the largest in the state with over 800,000 voters, should be the model for elections across the country.
“The January 5 runoff seemed like it went very well but we had to re-certify due to two precincts not being tabulated. Four compact flash cards were left at the tabulation at their precincts. These errors and inefficiencies waste taxpayer dollars. They undermine voter confidence,” stated Ruth. “This is not political. This is a bipartisan vote. The department needs new leadership that can take Fulton to the next level, modernizing the election process, making the county elections system more accurate, cost-effective, and efficient.”
Indeed, the coalition of members who fired Barron was bipartisan. Those who voted in favor of firing Barron were: Democratic Vice Chair Vernetta Keith Nuriddin, Republican member Dr. Kathleen Ruth, and Republican member Mark Wingate. Those against the measure were Chair Mary Carole Cooney and Democratic member Aaron Johnson.
The board doesn’t have the final say in the matter, however. Fulton County Board of Commissioners must review the vote before the decision can be finalized.
Barron told reporters that he won’t issue a comment until the board of commissioners convene for their next meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST. Barron indicated in his remarks that the vote could get overturned.
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