Fulton County Board points to emailing photos as a remedy to the polling tax debate

Atlanta_FultonDeKalb

The Fulton County Board of  Registration and Election pointed to photo taking and emailing as a remedy for the postage-related polling tax debate. Members planned an April 23 special meeting to discuss Coronavirus-related precinct changes.

The following includes brief notes taken by a Peanut Gallery volunteer as a public service only. Contact the  Fulton County Board of Elections for questions or official information.

Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections Meeting 4-9-20

Board Members Present: Mary Carole Cooney, Mark Wingate, Dr. Kathleen Ruth, Aaron Johnson Vernetta Nuriddin – will join

Also present Richard Barron – Director Registration and Elections, Mariska Bodison – Board Secretary, Ralph Jones, Blake Evans

Board Members

Ms. Mary Carole Cooney, Chairperson

Mr. Mark Wingate, Vice Chair (Republican)

Ms. Vernetta Nuriddin (Democrat)

Kathleen Ruth, Ph.D. (Republican)

Mr. Aaron Johnson, (Democrat)

Operating in exception to Georgia open meeting act because Fulton County is operating under a state and county state of emergency and the meeting will be open to the public on youtube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EomFm_RgwI

  1. Approval of Agenda

There is one amendment – to item 9 to strike the last precinct proposal, 920, because it is no longer necessary.

Agenda approved

  1. Communications and Public Response

– Gail Burnette – Please provide the following information, What is the current backlog of absentee ballot requests, do we have staff needed to process those requests, will that staff be able to process those requests remotely, what can the public do to help? What is the methodology, processes, points of accountability, that will be used to ensure that all absentee ballot requests sent by mail including any backlog will be processed. In addition how will you ensure there will be no priority of applications based upon zip code or political party. I am making a request for clear information regarding ballot request processing issues that may arise or have arisen. Please make full process available to the public.

Wanda Martin – On Mon April 6 citing grave concerns about the public health risk caused by touchscreen machines used and related, equipment requires significant touching and handling by voters and poll workers, a coalition of organizers, physicians, candidates and voters sought an immediate review of certain components of the Dominion Voting System prior to its deployment in the upcoming May 19th election. The group requested that infectious disease and public health experts lead the system examination of core components, ballot scanners and central server of the Dominion voting system can be used with either hand marked paper ballots or the touch screen ballot marking device. Using hand marked paper ballots and disposable pens greatly reduced the amount of touching and handling of plastic and metal surfaces required by touchscreen units. The use of traditional paper ballots only and using only the core voting system would reduce scores of thousands of hours of programming, testing, transport and installation of the touchscreen components by vendors and staff while greatly reducing the surface to be touched by voters and the voters interactions with poll workers. Sent a letter to the Secretary of state.

  1. Approval of Minutes  

Regular Meeting 3-12-20

Special Called Meeting March 18, 2020

Both approved

  1. Monthly Operations Report for March 2020 – Richard Barron.

I just received word that the Secretary of State delayed the election until June 9.

Early voting will begin on May 18 and run through June 5.

– We conducted early voting for the March election between March 2 to 14. It was interrupted because of Covid 19. The March PPP (Presidential Preference Primary) was changed to coincide with the May 19 general primary.

The operations report states that we were going to have hands on training classes with less than 10 people and were going to tape training and do everything online by video. Will be changed as well.

We were surveying poll workers – 666 responses – 472 had committed to being poll workers for May 19 elections. The percentage of people who were going to show up was going down, the more people who responded. 1000 people hadn’t responded to the survey.

For early voting, it seemed that we had a full complement of people who were willing to work.

We lost 6 polling locations. 2 churches – Mt. Vernon Baptist and First Presbyterian church had both declined and lost our senior living facilities as well. One school had a graduation which has been cancelled and they may do it again.

Were continuing to receive our equipment carriers. In the second week of May we will have all of our carriers in the warehouse.

Voter registration applications we’ve received 76,899 this year. Received 19,422 in March – we are going to have a busy year processing applications. Sometime around May 9 will be the Voter registration deadline, for the now June 9 elections.

Felons – no hearings for this meeting 409 letters mailed to suspected felons and issued 68 TVICS.

Admin. division – we got 2 mobile precincts approved for purchase so we would get delivery before November Elections early voting. We’ll have 10-15 voting stations in them. They will be buses with an awning for November elections. Can use for voter outreach and early voting and in-between elections

– Qualifying for candidates – March 2-6 for general primary on May 19, we conducted the – completed for Republican and non-partisan candidates.

We’ve had to get the City of Atlanta contract for their election updated and may change again with election change. The new IGA will have incorrect dates now.

Had a number VOE events cancelled in March – voter outreach. Voter education team was working 7 days a week.

Mark Wingate – given what the state has done sending absentee mail applications, there will be an extended time for them. What kind of volume have you seen already?

Richard Barron through yesterday we had received 6,438 absentee ballot applications through noon yesterday 4-8-20.

We were told by Karen Fickland rejected 245 and processed 6,193. Those ballots will be mailed by the state. Once the ballots are returned, we will process those. Mailed the 50 UOCAVA ballots – are for overseas voters.

Kathleen Ruth asked why 245 rejected.

Ralph Jones –  Reasons for 245 rejected – majority of reasons are that the person did not select a party or didn’t sign the application themselves. We contact the voter. First class letter by mail. We have 2 days to turn it around by law.

Black guy glasses – questions about absentee ballot applications. We get a lot of questions. There are two email addresses, one on the ballot and one on our website. Do both work – one better than the other, why two?

Richard Barron – Ralph do you know why we have two?

Ralph Jones – That was done in the beginning. We would prefer if using absentee to use the elections absentee email. We receive both absentee ballot requests and the staff knows requests will come in on both of them. We prefer that you send it to absentee but will accept both. The Secretary of State posted the email address on the application to voter registration.

Mr. Windgate – with regards to the mailing by the SOS of an actual ballot, given the new time frames that we have, is the assumption that the ballots won’t be mailed by the State until May 18? Now that we’ve had X number of days of delay, when can people start expecting to get their ballots if they have applied.

Baron – it’s my understanding the ballots are mailed when they get them and no ballots have been mailed yet. It’s a third party vendor by the state. I’m not sure when they will start mailing them. People should be getting them soon and can return when they get them.

Mr. Windgate – people will get the ballots before the legal early voting period.

Richard Barron – yes. That’s the same with every election

Vernetta Nuriddin – Will there be any changes in the actual process. When you receive applications do you process within a certain time frame and enter it in the system and the ballot is mailed. Since you are not mailing them how will that change the process?

Ralph Jones – application comes in, and we will enter an issue date of when we feel the ballot should be issued. The State takes our issue date for that day and begins to mail them. When the state begins mailing ballots, we assume the state is just like us and has a 2-day turnaround once we enter the application into the system. The state mails the ballot and once the voter returns it, they process the ballot upon return.

Vernetta Nuriddin – Is there a reason why those ballots aren’t coming through the department? Were you able to proof those ballots since those ballots aren’t coming through the county?

Ralph Jones – the State takes responsibility for that. The State vendor is responsible to make sure the correct ballot is mailed to voters.

Female board member – quite a few years back we had a problem with the wrong ballot being sent out and at a location in person some people were given the wrong ballot. So now, if a person gets an incorrect ballot what is their process – do they call the vendor or the department?

Ralph Jones – they will call us. We had an audit of our information and feel that people are in the correct district on our end. if they get a wrong ballot it would probably be on the states end, but we can verify that the state pulled the right ballot.

Vernetta Nuriddin – is it because of Corona 2020 that it’s being handled this way?

Richard Barron – the State decided to take on the cost of processing and mailing the ballots. The state also took on the cost of mailing. This vendor has a lot of experience mailing absentee ballots, Runback. The state will give them a file and there will be a ballot code with each voter depending on their district. They will issue ballots based upon their code.

Vernetta Nuriddin – I saw about lawsuit from the ACLU brought about our absentee process. I’m talking about the postage requirement. Share different ways how voters can get their request for free and drop off for free. I want to make sure it is verbalized that our voters can email that request to the department and bring in the actual ballot to an early vote site. There are ways that voters can get their ballot with no postage and I want that mentioned.

Richard Barron  – We’re accepting applications via email and fax. If someone wants to take a picture and email or send by regular mail they can do that. In regards to the ballot, they can drop off ballots at one of our offices. We are going to determine whether we can accept ballots at different locations around the county. Somebody’s going to have to mail the ballot in or drop it off. There is a list of people who can drop off ballots for individuals as well.

Dr. Kathleen Ruth – it does say on the application that you can take a picture of the application and email it.

Vernetta Nuriddin – yes, thank you. Still lawsuits are still being brought even though it’s on there. Lastly, Mr. Jones how many absentee ballot applications received?

Richard Barron – Answer 6,438 through noon yesterday (absentee ballot applications received)

Vernetta Nuriddin – I heard 10 days before Runback mails a ballot. Do we have an estimated time?

Richard Barron  – we don’t have any information on when the first ballots are going to be mailed. Runback will be mailing everything for the State.

Vernetta Nuriddin Is there a checkpoint to let Ralph or your department know when or if our ballots – 6,000 in queue now, and may double or triple, will we have any assurance to know how many ballots went out?

Ralph Jones – The State said they would give us a real time report of what ballots are being mailed by Runback. We should have reports and notification of which ones we’ve entered and which ones have been mailed out

Mary Carole Cooney  – How are we doing with staffing the usual heavy workload of voter registration and absentee ballot applications?

Ralph Jones – Right now the staffing is good. The VOE team has volunteered to help us and an extra intern is coming on board and the  state has offered us 100 employees to make sure we can handle it.

Richard Barron  – We’re getting a lot of support from the County in regard to elections. There are 848 county employees unassigned – so we have access to them if needed. In addition to what Ralph said there are 6 people going in from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. everyday. One lady is in hospital with Covid. Many are tele-working.

Mary Carole Cooney – VEO report have we gotten? Is your report concluded? Concludes Operations.

Richard Barron  – yes

Mary Carole Cooney Brings us to Item 5 and 6 . Mr. Barron tell us about how the department has been meeting the public health emergency and what we thought were our deadlines for Presidential preference primary and general elections.

Richard Barron  – the election has been delayed. We have a crew in the warehouse prepping for early voting and voting day. We have a group processing ballot by mail applications and individuals entering in voter registration applications at home. We are distributing paper applications to staff to work on paper applications at home. We’ve been making a lot of use of Zoom and staff is hard at work in these strange circumstances. We were going to use FGTV as well to tape training classes for election day for managers and clerks. Those people can take classes at their convenience. Poll workers -we’ve had a little less than a third to commit to working. County has said it will assign 848 unassigned workers. If the county opens before, those workers will be committed to us on elections day or early voting if necessary.

Mary Carole Cooney – We official response to an update to PPP from Secretary of State

Vernetta Nuriddin – is there a backlog of requests for absentee ballots?

Richard Barron  – Karen Fickland says that during the work day, we’re getting an application about every 10 seconds submitted electronically.

Pam – We’re getting an overwhelming number of applications, more than I’ve ever seen. It’s an indication that people want to vote from home. Karen is staying diligent about printing them out. We’re working on a strategy to disburse them to the rest of the team to get these entered into the system.

Richard Barron  – I applaud those that are going in every day to the warehouse and being at the office every day. It’s not easy. in this environment.

Vernetta Nuriddin – currently you’re in process of disseminating the 6000.

Ralph Jones 6438 entered. 1100 have been disbursed yesterday so the number will go up by 1000.

Vernetta Nuriddin – so currently about 1100 to be processed in addition to the ones that are coming in everyday and have staff to help with it, you’re still working that out right?

Richard Barron  – Yes, if VR department can’t handle it, Ralph will let me know the county management will assign people to us

Mr. Windgate – will talk about early voting locations with the new calendar

Richard Barron  – Secretary of State had a call at 10:00 a.m. Sharon on my staff listened to find the new dates June 9 and early voting will begin May 18 and run through June 5. None of us have any info from that call at the moment.

Mary Carole Cooney is that everything that we need to discuss concerning presidential preference primary and general primary?

Barron – yes

Mary Carole Cooney Item 7 Approval of Early voting locations for Presidential Preference Primary and General Primary locations.

Richard Barron – My recommendation now since the date changed to have a special meeting in a couple of weeks to see what’s changed on the ground. My initial recommendation was to do the minimum of early voting sites. There are two local manufacturers producing hand sanitizer. The county will procure enough for us on Fulton Industrial and Old Fourth Ward Distillery. We will have enough sanitizer. I feel more comfortable revisiting this in two weeks.

Mr. Windgate – Now that we have this flood of absentee by mail applications that you’re processing, it’s a voter issue and now a candidate issue. Coming up with what the early voting platform is soon is important.  I’ve had several candidate calls about what the impact of this may be. Now that the election is delayed, that took away from everything we’ve told candidates. Figure out as soon as you can. We’ll need another video conference to approve.

Richard Barron  – I don’t think the State can delay again. Talked to Chris Harvey last week and if the election was delayed to June, that would be the final delay because it will run into August runoff and November election. Now that election has been delayed, I would like to wait two weeks to see where things are headed. The health and safety of staff and poll workers is my main concern to open and being at risk to open and maintain sites for three weeks. We have 2 staff members with Covid, ones spouse has it. One person in the hospital on a ventilator. Most of our poll workers who work early voting are over 65 and vulnerable. They have to come into contact with every voter that comes in the door. I don’t want them to come into dangerous situations and put them at risk. If the county helps fill in on election day, we’ll have enough workers for early voting. It looks like we will have enough sanitizer and masks.

Aaron Johnson – I’m ok with delaying. There’s a lot of changes every day. Two minutes into call today things were different. We all feel a sense of responsibility for the poll workers and the voters in the process. Everyone is used to Fulton having the most robust early voting. We should strive for that and be mindful of our staff and poll workers. We want to make sure we can get the info out.

Vernetta Nuriddin – I’m a proponent of delaying as long as CT Martin is open because it has a great turnout there every election.

Dr. Kathleen Ruth – I’m fine with waiting. We’ve talked about PPE’ s that will be necessary. We need to talk about how social distance will be regulated. Don’t want people standing in line too close together. If you can come up with a plan in the next week and a half will be helpful to our discussions.

Richard Barron  – We have plans for that and a parking lot attendant information person and a line manager outside the polling location. We’re going to limit the number of ballot marking devices in both early voting locations and polling places including the poll worker. If we have high numbers of voters in person even on June 9, that 10 person limit will probably still be in place. Will need to keep people at a distance in line and maintain limits inside polling places. If they vote in person, they will probably wait in line because of the number of people allowed in the polling places and more space between voting stations so will take up more room in early voting locations and election day locations.

Mary Carole Cooney – Will be an interesting special meeting. An opportunity once we have more data on how much absentee voting will be going on – what the balance will be between absentee voting, early voting and projected day of voting. We will talk about it. We will lean on external affairs for voter education to tell people if they have to wait in line. Will be a line manager and things like that. We will have a lot to consider.

We have talked about having a special meeting. I don’t know if a date has been proposed. Do you have a feel of when to make a decision?

Richard Barron  – If two weeks from today at same time – can give you a plan. Maybe the Monday before meeting we can have a plan. If on 4-23-20 would be almost a month before early voting begins. We get you information on the 20th and the absentee applications by mail – so we can see how many people requesting absentee ballots by mail.

Mary Carole Cooney – I will ask the board if they will approve a special called meeting on Thurs 4-23-20

Approved by all.

Mary Carole Cooney – I’m calling a special meeting for us. That defers early voting locations for the Presidential Preference Primary and General Primary Election

Approval of Amendment 1 Intergovernmental agreement for City of Atlanta

This matter is moot because the dates have been changed.

Sharon – yes, correct.

Mary Carole Cooney – that matter is disposed of.

Item #9 – Approval of Precinct Proposals 

Blake Evens – these are emergency changes for consideration. Senior facilities. Temporary location changes because of May 19 elections. There was concern for the residents with Covid 19.

Proposal  – 120 Abernathy Towers Precinct move to West Hunter Baptist Church. They can’t be a location for May 19.

We got notifications that we are willing to be a location when Covid 19 is not a threat.

Mr. Johnson – Should we vote to move them not knowing if they can do the new June date? If we did the precinct changes in our special called meeting, would that be ok? Give you enough time to see if West Hunter has an event.

Blake Evans – In the last few minutes we have started calling locations. It’s two weeks out from the special called meeting. Since these are emergency changes, we would be okay to consider them at that meeting?

Sharon – yes. We don’t  need a full three weeks to notify the public. We should put something out ASAP about the agenda for the special called meeting.

Blake Evans – If we make a decision today to postpone the decision until a special meeting, we can get the information out to the paper and website today.

David Lowman – we can do that today.

Aaron Johnson – I make a motion to hold item 9.

Motion passed to table or hold all item 9 on agenda.

Adjourned

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