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Fulton County Elections Board faces funding challenges

Director remains on job after tendering resignation

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FULTON COUNTY, GA. — With his employment status still in limbo, embattled Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron remains on the job.

Barron was on hand, providing an updated staffing report to the Registration and Elections Board at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Barron has endured months of criticism, beginning in June 2020 when problems developed with voting machines at a number of precincts during the Presidential Primary. The issue forced voters to stand in line for hours.

He was in the spotlight again in the contentious 2020 General Election when poll workers were forced to rescan ballots under the eye of representatives from both political parties.

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Barron submitted his resignation in the middle of last month and was set to vacate his post Dec. 31.

The Registration and Elections Board subsequently petitioned the Fulton County Commission to extend Barron’s contract an extra three months.

But commissioners could not muster the four votes needed to approve the request at their Jan. 5 meeting.

With 2022 primary elections on the horizon, the Voting and Elections Department is dealing with a host of key-level staffing vacancies, including registration chief, registration officer positions and an absentee officer position.

In his report at the Jan. 13 meeting, Barron said the department has recently filled five other positions and hopes to have all the vacancies filled by the end of the month.

Barron also noted limitations with funding. He said the county has approved funding for the general election primary in May, the general election in November and a possible general election runoff in December, but there is no money set aside for a possible runoff election in the primary.

This year, Georgians will cast ballots for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and all other state offices. In the wake of disputes over the 2020 elections, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger are already facing challenges from within their own Republican Party.

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Barron said that if a primary runoff is necessary, the board would have to draw from the general election runoff allocation, then later request the funding be restored if a runoff is needed in the fall.

The board also requested funding for 13 new staff positions, but Barron said the county opted not to fund them. He said several equipment requests the board made will also not be funded.

The Voting and Elections Department also faces new regulations to deal with due to Senate Bill 202, the sweeping elections bill the Georgia General Assembly passed last year.

Whereas the department used to send absentee ballot applications to voters who are 65 and older or disabled this time of year, Barron said they are now legally prohibited from sending them. Those wishing to vote by absentee ballot must request a ballot through the Georgia Secretary of State’s website or by mail.

The county will send mail to households to notify them of the change in the absentee ballot process. Barron also said that voters who apply for an absentee ballot for the primary will receive one for a primary runoff, but the same does not apply to a general election runoff.

The county will be limited to seven absentee ballot drop boxes, as SB 202 only allows for one drop box per 100,000 active voters or per advance voting location in the county, whichever is lower. Fulton County has more than 850,000 registered voters, but around 757,000 are classified as active.

Early in-person voting for the general primary will begin May 2, with Election Day falling on May 24. Voters may apply for an absentee ballot beginning March 7, and elections officials may begin mailing absentee ballots on April 5.

Reach Jake Drukman at 770-847-8334. Follow him on Twitter @DrukmanJake.

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