Georgia’s Fulton County, the state’s most populous district, goes to the polls on Tuesday not only to determine the next Atlanta mayor, but also faces a possible state takeover under the rules of a new law, the Associated Press reported .

The county was under scrutiny ahead of the 2020 presidential election, especially after the June primaries were hit by coronavirus infections due to election workers sick or trying to avoid contracting COVID-19. New voting machines only added to problems during the area code.

Former President Donald Trump then made unproven claims of electoral fraud following the November presidential election, saying that fraud had cost him victory in the state. GOP state lawmakers then urged the Republican-controlled state electoral body to remove local electoral officials.

The Democrats argued that a new provision requiring a performance review was made with an emphasis on Fulton. Republicans then began a state review of the Democrat-controlled district electoral committee, which could result in the board being replaced by the state board-appointed representative.

“We know we have a goal behind us,” said district committee chairman Robb Pitts. “You’re trying to use Fulton County and our constituents to gain political points … but I’m just not going to let that happen.”

For more coverage from the Associated Press, see below:

There is a lot at stake in Fulton County, Georgia in Tuesday’s local elections that could lead to a state takeover. Above, Robb Pitts, Chairman of the Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners, speaks to media inside the Capitol building against House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta.
Getty

Amid a barrage of criticism, the district electoral committee voted in February to fire election director Rick Barron only to have his decision rejected by the Board of Commissioners.

The drumbeat of negativity was tough for the county staff. Denouncing much of this as politically motivated, Barron notes that Fulton received a regional award for overcoming obstacles during the 2020 electoral cycle at a nationwide gathering of district electoral officials.

“Our colleagues nominated us for it and we received a thunderous standing ovation,” he said.

Republican lawmakers in July called for a performance review “to ensure voter confidence in our elections and to help address flaws in the electoral process.” The state electoral body responded in August, as required by the new law, by appointing a three-person body to review Fulton’s electoral process.

Some observers consider the county’s electoral administration problems to be exaggerated.

“If you look closely in a county as big and populated as Fulton, you’re going to run into problems,” said Daniel Franklin, associate professor emeritus of political science at Georgia State University. “But I bet you’ll find problems elsewhere too.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a longtime critic of Fulton County, has taken up the case of two election workers who were fired this month after colleagues reported they had destroyed voter registration applications.

“New allegations have come to light that Fulton County shredded 300 motions related to the Georgia local elections,” Raffensperger said in a press release calling for a Justice Department investigation.

Fulton officials resented this characterization.

“We were NOT SEEN for doing it,” Barron said, adding that Fulton officials immediately contacted both the State Department and the prosecutor’s office. “Two of our employees did something and we reported it to them because we were interested in being transparent and making sure the situation was investigated.”

Franklin said Raffensperger’s focus on Fulton County made political sense: After Raffensperger rejected Trump’s calls to find enough votes to “find” his loss in Georgia, Raffensperger now faces primary challengers to the GOP, including one dated former president was supported.

“The Secretary of State is in a very tough re-election campaign and this is red meat for him,” said Franklin.

But the county has a history of problems with its elections. Fulton agreed to pay a $ 150,000 fine and upgrade election workers’ training in 2015 after state investigators found multiple violations of electoral law in 2008 and 2012.

In the June 2020 primaries, some voters never received postal ballot papers. Many waited for hours to vote after senior poll workers fired and polling stations consolidated over the coronavirus pandemic.

The county made changes ahead of the general election and was watched by an independent observer from October through January of the US Senate runoff elections. The observer, Carter Jones, told the state election committee that he had seen “sloppy trials” and “systemic disorganization” but had not seen “illegality, fraud or willful misconduct”.

The election camp was chaotic the night before the general election, while scanners jammed and other devices failed on election day. Jones also had some concerns about the way ballot papers were transmitted and kept, according to the records he kept.

Barron said his department responded to Jones’ recommendations, made staff changes, created a separate postal voting department, and updated standard operating procedures.

With the ongoing state review looming, he fears that some of the provisions of the new law may complicate things during Tuesday’s closely watched elections.

The law stipulates that the districts report the number of ballots cast by post on the evening of the election by 10:00 p.m., personally and early on on election day. That’s a tight deadline when the elections close at 7 p.m., even tighter as Atlanta keeps its local elections open until 8 p.m., Barron said.

Confusion over the new law can hit voters who appear in the wrong district and traditionally cast a significant portion of Fulton’s preliminary ballot papers, Barron said. This election will be the first in which preliminary ballots from voters outside the constituency will not be counted unless it is after 5 p.m. and the voter signs a statement stating that it is impossible to get into their constituency by the end of the constituency Survey.

The Atlanta Mayor’s race on Tuesday is Fulton County’s most popular local election. It’s a wide open competition with 14 candidates, so a runoff is likely. Any misstep could be used as evidence that the county does not have the power to hold its own elections.

Rick Barron
Fulton County, Georgia’s most populous county, a Democratic stronghold that spans most of Atlanta, faces a high-stakes test in Tuesday’s local elections. Amid a barrage of criticism, the district electoral committee voted in February to fire election director Rick Barron only to have his decision rejected by the Board of Commissioners. Above, Barron speaks to reporters as workers scan ballot papers during a presidential recount in Atlanta on Nov. 25, 2020.
AP Photo / Ben Gray, file