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Stung by primary, Fulton election board moves forward to plan runoff

One proposed solution is to hire a consultant.

ATLANTA — With only about 40 days before early voting starts for the August runoff, Fulton County's election board detailed how the June 8 primary went sideways and how its members hope to fix it.

Thursday, the board got an earful from voters and local officials over the troubled primary.  

Crowds at precincts voted past midnight Wednesday morning.  

"This is voter suppression. I waited six and a half hours to vote," voter Chelsea Ostrow told board members during the public comment section of a virtual meeting.

"I’m absolutely disgusted. I think you should resign. I think the board of elections should just be completely redone," added Kevin Caron, one of several calls for the heads of officials who managed the election.

Fulton election director Rick Barron told the board that voting stalled Tuesday for several separate reasons – which combined for a grueling and lengthy experience at many poll sites.

  • Absentee balloting. Fulton had issues processing emailed applications because they included attached images in hard-to-handle formats;
  • New voting machines, in use statewide for the first time Tuesday.  Barron said the machines unexpectedly overloaded electrical circuits in some precincts, causing delays;
  • Pollworker shortages.  Barron says Fulton lost between 400 and 500 pollworkers in the days before the election – mostly because of concerns about the pandemic.  Many simply failed to show up Tuesday.
  • Training issues.  Many new pollworkers barely got training – resulting in them showing up on primary day and seeing the new voting machines for the first time.

Barron says the new technology puzzled many older pollworkers.  

"We need to get tech savvy poll workers who understand power draws on machines," Barron told board members.

But board members and voters also wanted to know why the long lines mostly formed in Fulton County’s communities of color.

Barron said Democratic voter turnout -- which typically includes African American voters -- far exceeded Republican voter turnout in Fulton.

Barron says between now and November he expects:

  • the state to create a new online portal to request absentee ballots that’s more efficient than US Mail or email;  
  • Fulton to expand the number of early voting sites;
  • to recruit younger and more tech savvy pollworkers who can handle the new machines better;
  • to hire a consultant to advise on absentee balloting. 

Early voting starts July 20 for the August 11 runoff. 

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