Georgia State Election Board rejects Fulton acquisition after conspiracy theorists fixate on 2020

This story was originally published by our sister company Georgia Recorder. It is republished here with permission.

The state Election Board on Tuesday rejected a state takeover of Fulton County’s elections after a protracted performance review after a tumultuous 2020 presidential election drew unwanted national attention to Georgia’s most populous county.

The state board members cited improvements in polling operations in Fulton, including a change in leadership, as reason for their unanimous rejection of the state takeover. The vote comes in line with a January review panel report that said replacing the county’s local elections committee would hurt progress made in Fulton in recent years.

The Fulton election has long been criticized for its persistently long lines in front of electoral districts and consistently lagging behind the state’s other 158 districts in reporting election results.

Republican lawmakers implemented an election law overhaul after the 2020 presidential election that paved the way for state takeovers of troubled local election committees. Under the 2021 law, the State Elections Committee has final decision-making authority over whether local election officials should be temporarily suspended and replaced with a state-appointed administrator to conduct the elections.

Fulton was the first Georgia county under investigation in August 2021. An independent panel spent 17 months assessing election operations in the Democratic stronghold.

On Tuesday, Cathy Woolard, the outgoing chair of Fulton’s Elections Committee, told members of the state executive board that ongoing improvements had resulted in the county running successful elections since 2020.

“We feel that we’ve made significant progress over time since introducing a performance appraisal almost two years ago in August 2021,” she said. “We attended several meetings, submitted countless documents, facilitated many inspections, and were open and transparent about our plans and our performance.”



In the 2020 presidential election, many local polling stations, including Fulton, faced staff shortages due to the pandemic. And on election night, Fulton’s nightly count of a record number of mail-in ballots at the State Farm Arena sparked wild conspiracy theories that were seized upon by Republican President Donald Trump. Many of his allies point to videos of voting in the arena as the reason Trump narrowly lost to Democratic nominee Joe Biden. A film by a conservative activist debunked rumors that Fulton poll workers had conjured up suitcases full of illegal ballots to help Biden — a claim firmly denied by Georgia election officials.

The Election Review Board’s report found no basis for allegations of rampant voter fraud or willful misconduct by poll officials and Fulton’s leadership. However, the report echoed criticism from an independent election observer who criticized the county’s 2020 general election conduct as sloppy.

The review panel cited problems with management oversight, disorganization, ballot recount errors and a host of other issues. Progress was also noted in staff training, streamlining mail-in ballot collection and a better chain of custody for mail-in ballots.

State Election Board Chairman William Duffey Jr. said that while Fulton made important leadership changes, the county’s ability to solve systemic problems and restore public confidence will be severely tested in the 2024 presidential election will be asked.

“While I think it’s fair to say that because of the (half-time) result there was less controversy and complaints about it, but when you have a close result like in 2020, the circumstances and the ability to deal with it and to reach the highest level. “Readiness and preparation are necessary,” he said.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday that the investigation into alleged misconduct during the 2020 election has found the numerous allegations against Fulton’s elections department and its staff to be false.

Investigations by the State Department, GBI and FBI found that there was “no evidence of any type of fraud as alleged”.

“We remain diligent and committed to investigating actual allegations of voter fraud,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “We are glad that the state electoral committee finally solved this problem. False claims and knowingly false allegations against these poll workers have done tremendous harm. Poll workers deserve our praise for being on the front lines.”