Fulton County Board of Commissioners Meeting Election Related Highlights
* The Board of Commissioners approved a task force to oversee the election process and early voting.
* The Secretary of State’s office will create an online portal for absentee ballots applications.
* Poll workers will have in-person training before the August runoff.
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Board members present:
Chair Robb Pitts
Marvin S. Arrington Jr.
Elections Director Rick Barron
Chair Mary Carole Cooney
Fulton County Police Chief Darryle Halbert
Councilwoman Helen Willis
Fulton County Board of commissioners meeting 6-17-20
The meeting notes were taken by an attendee and focus on discussions about elections.
H.W: I received a rash of calls during the early voting process about the South Fulton city gov. Center that’s located in District 3.Upon arrival I noticed a very lengthy line, when I walked in, there were several seniors that were not aware that they could be given priority to vote. During the early voting process distancing. The majority of people in line were there because they didn’t receive their absentee ballots, the box to drop absentee ballots was locked. There were several people that I saw to drop off absentee ballots but they couldn’t because the box was locked. Aaron Johnson and a rep. from the Board of Elections did arrive and assured residents that they would be given an opportunity to vote that day and that the process will improve.
On 6/9/2020 the process was even worse, I arrived at Welcome All Park at 7am, there was a very lengthy line, 2 machines were down. The poll manager was very frustrated and she told me that she was not equipped or trained to deal with the magnitude of problems that she was facing. Only 4 out of her 6 staff members showed up, seniors and disabled residents were not aware that they had a priority to vote so I started pulling them up to the front of the line. There was a lack of customer service, staff was not trained to assist individuals that had questions about where to vote. They did not know how to connect to the internet so I helped people locate their voter registration info. 50% of people in line did not receive their absentee ballot even though they applied for their ballot. I hope we can get it right for the runoff election and the Nov. election.
I am recommending that we partner with the many civic organizations that have stepped up and are willing to help. Some of the organizations are saying that they do not need to be paid, they are willing to volunteer. I am asking that we allow for people to apply for absentee ballots online. When I was applying for an absentee ballot, I could not submit one online, nor is there a category that applies to why I need an absentee ballot. I simply want an absentee ballot because of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no criteria that meets that criteria, so that category needs to be added. We need to make sure there is adequate staffing, the absentee ballot applications need to be mailed out today. There needs to be serious discussion around that. People still don’t know that they have to reapply for absentee ballots. We have to get this right, I’m tired of being embarrassed in front of the entire nation.
K.W: As you all are aware voting is a fundamental American right.This is a principle that our country was founded upon. However it is my belief that on Tuesday 6-9-20 the voters of Fulton county were disenfranchised and denied that fundamental right. There is significant evidence to suggest the integrity of the primary election was compromised and undermined due to egregious negligence and lack of preparation. I’m not here to point fingers or give blame this morning, I’m simply here to partner and find remedies and solutions to right this matter. On 3-30-20 I requested my absentee ballot however I never received it which forced me to get in a long line and vote during advanced early voting. I am aware that Covid-19 presented many challenges however it is my belief that this is not an excuse to deny the basic right of participation to the 1.5 million voters of Fulton County. There is also significant evidence to suggest that thousands of voters never voted due to not receiving their absentee ballots or they received them after the election was held on 6-9-20. Many of you are aware of the challenges that have faced Fulton Co. for many decades. It is my belief that Fulton Co. elections have a pervasive culture of negligence and demonstrated a failure to conduct an electron free of challenges, as I take my seat I am simply asking you to right this travesty.
R.J: Fulton Co. claims to be a leader, it is time to lead and move beyond excuses. The county touts being a leader and as we look to the future it is time to make sure that all of the voters are encouraged to vote and not disenfranchised. What happened on 6-9-20 and before 6-9 cannot be allowed to be repeated, it should never happen again, especially in Fulton Co. as a leader. We’ve passed out a list of demands and encourage you to look at those and stand with civic organizations to encourage people to vote. We need new leadership with elections, I understand that you don’t have direct control but you control the purse strings and you are leaders in the county. We need to move towards online voting and that needs to start now, because that will take a long time to get there. We also need to make sure that our people know what they are voting on and that they are encouraged to receive that info. I also submitted an early application for a mail ballot, did not receive it, contacted the office and sent another one electronically. I had to contact someone personally to finally get my ballot after the third attempt. Many people are disenfranchised, I am asking for the county to make sure that this does not happen again.
Fulton County response to Covid-19
L.H: Legally there is an issue with testing? We can test people that come in but can’t test people that are already here (In jail)?
Fulton Co. Jail Rep: We can offer the test to everyone. Our policy for the last 2 weeks was to offer the test to anyone coming into the jail. At this point we have no active cases where we are treating anyone for Covid-19.
Dr. Paxton: We are encouraging folks to come in and get tested. The lab turnaround time has improved, so we are able to provide results a lot quicker than we were able to do a few weeks ago. All residents currently in long term senior facilities have been tested at least once. 66% of the staff have been tested.
We want to add 2 more mobile testing vehicles so that we would have 3.
We want every person in a homeless shelter to be given 2 reusable, washable masks.
We plan on testing all 14,000 teachers and staff in Fulton Co. schools before they make the final decision of whether or not to open back up for the next school year.
L.H: Are we offering testing for APS staff in addition to testing FCS staff? If Atlanta pays for it?
Dr. Paxton: It is my understanding that The City of Atlanta is working specifically with APS in regards to testing.
L.H: What are the trends in hospitalizations and death rates?
Dr. Paxton: We are seeing an uptick in positive cases. Due to increased testing we are finding them at earlier stages and is probably one reason why hospitalization rates here in Fulton Co. have fallen. Some rural counties in G.A. are seeing an uptick in hospitalizations. The death rates in Fulton are slightly rising. We have to continue fighting, we are nowhere near being out of the woods on this.
N.H: When do you expect to have the additional 2 mobile units on the road?
M.K: Minimum 4 months
A motion about hate crimes has passed, but only covers misdemeanor hate crimes not felony hate crimes.
M.C: We know what went wrong, the absentee ballot process did not work. We had too few polling places, too few staff, too few hours per day until the very end and under trained staff with long lines. We had 45 polling place changes necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Polling places stayed open late, long lines started before polling places opened and remained very long throughout the day and into the night. In regards to the new voting machines in G.A. on 8-15-19 U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg stated at that time in a court order that “the court is concerned whether the state is prepared to fully implement the new system state wide in all 159 G.A. counties in time for the 3-20-20 PPP election as promised and provided for in the contract with its select vendor Dominion Voting Systems. The process thus far has already suffered from delays in modifications that are not insignificant in Judging the Secretary of State’s capacity to fulfill its statutory obligation of providing the uniform system of electronic ballot markers and ballot scanners for use in each county statewide.”
We then looked at the promised timeline between equipment promised and equipment delivered, and equipment trained to poll workers and found gap after gap after gap. That equipment did not get there and that equipment had some significant problems. We found out at the very last minute that this equipment required additional electronic capacity, plugs and outlets that traditional polling stations did not have. Therefore we were unable to open our polling places on time and when they did open our poll managers were unable to get the equipment running. We found that there were big problems with the polling pads. We found that the one uniform password that was supposed to be used throughout the Co. was operative in some polling places but not others. We think that the task force should take a look at these problems and assess them before a final determination is to be made.
In addition to the equipment problem we looked at the absentee ballot initiative. Our dept. was totally bogged down by the emailed absentee ballot applications that came in under various PDFs, Jpegs and emails that had 3 or 4 ballot applications attached to one email. The county’s IT dept. told our director that no mature organizations would have sent out those applications and invited people to do it by email. It should have been done using portals. We are determined to fix these problems before 8-9-20. We need and hope to have cooperation with the State. We have to recognize that there were problems that were beyond our control. 40 of our polling locations at the last minute decided to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic also caused 6 out of 7 of our early voting poll workers to decline to serve. Our solution for those things is to do whatever it takes to get enough polling places and keep them locked in until August. We will recruit younger poll workers and poll workers that are willing to work under different conditions like a 7am-7pm shift. These are the things that are in our control. The other issues are ones that require the cooperation of the State and we intend to seek it. We think that our staff worked very hard and very well. We think that we were dealt a pretty bad hand. We are ready to certify the results of the election on Friday. We are having round table discussions with other metro counties who have reported identical problems so that we can inform the S.O.S. about these issues to find solutions that could perhaps be useful on a statewide level.
R.B: We are unsatisfied with how things went. We are undertaking a review process. We need to make sure that all Fulton County voters are enfranchised with accessible, equitable, safe and smooth elections. We are looking for some mitigation strategies to deal with the pandemic into the November election. Our major issues with the election include processing absentee applications submitted by email, 45 location changes, losing 400 to 500 poll workers, not having in-person training (it was all done by video), having fewer early voting locations than normal (we planned on having 24 and ended up having 5 to begin and 8 to end), we had malfunctioning equipment issues due to training, password issues, and poll pads switching precincts, shutting down reverting to the Presidential Preference Primary. We had inexperienced new poll workers which led to setup and operational challenges. We also had long lines and much higher turnout in some parts of the county than others. We had the distance restrictions, some precincts agreed that the only way that they would stay open is to have a strict 10 person limit inside the buildings.
Moving forward we know we have to increase the number of our early voting locations to 24. In order to do that we will have to pay a premium. We need to use our outreach sites again in the fall and we will have to use all of our libraries. We will need to do an online portal submission for absentee ballot applications. This is key, I’ve spoken with many people all over the country that have repeated the Secretary of State should have set up an online portal before they mailed out these ballots. We didn’t have any issues with the mailed absentee applications, only emailed applications. We need to drive 80% of the voters to early voting and absentee by mail because we anticipate a 75% turnout. We expect to have about 600,000 in November which is 160,000 more than we had in 2016. In 2016 59% voted early and 5% voted by mail. We need to get that up to 80% in the fall. We need to change the model for paid experienced poll workers. We need to get a technical integration team for early voting and election day. We will need more money to convince our old election locations to return to service. We had a lot of voters assigned to too few locations. We need a dedicated training facility. We need a dedicated call center for early voting and absentee by mail. We need a central processing warehouse for all the absentee by mail applications that we are going to have to process and to receive all of those ballots by mail. We need a significant increase in staffing to handle the absentee by mail processing which doubled this year.
B.E: At noon the day before election all non essential workers out of the 5000 that work for the county should become election day employees.
L.H: Why are we discovering electrical problems with our precincts the day of the election?
R.B: The poll workers were plugging the machines into the same circuit instead of using different outlets, it was a training (lack of in-person) issue. We processed 143,019 applications, and mailed out about 13,500 of thoses. The remainder were mailed out by the state’s vendor.
L.H: When did you finish processing the mailed applications?
R.B: We got applications up until the last day, we were receiving them until 6-5-20.
N.H: Who made the decision to use a vendor from Arizona?
R.B: The Secretary of State made that decision.
N.H: Describe the process for testing.
R.B: We test the machines in our warehouse and seal them up and start delivering them to the polling precincts a week before the election. The machines are not turned on at the precinct until the morning of the election.
N.H: Did we have issues with the machines malfunctioning?
R.B: When the machines are unpacked they have to be plugged in. If too many get plugged in along the same circuit it can cause shimmering screens or black screens. Until they get plugged into another circuit they are going to malfunction. We will have in-person training before the August election to avoid a repeat of this problem.
N.H: Some voters ran out of paper.
R.B: Every precinct was given enough paper to handle a 60% turnout.
N.H: Some voters found out that their polling location had been changed 2 days before the election. I looked at the list of polling locations and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Peachtree State was listed as open on the list but in actuality was closed. Grady high was on the list as being open but 2 days before the election it was moved to Park Tavern. How are you going to ensure that these last minute changes won’t happen again?
R.B: We will contact the old polling locations and offer to decontaminate everything and invoice us afterwards.
M.A: I am going to make a motion that this board adopt its own election committee taskforce. The last 2 elections yall have had more voting precincts in N. Fulton than in S. Fulton. We want the same number of locations in S. Fulton as yall put in N. Fulton. Why do we keep having to address that issue. It is racist.
Carn: The vast majority of the precinct issues happened south of I-20. The difficulties were far greater than ones up North. The difficulties were far greater in predominantly african american areas. Voter suppression may not happen in the exact form that it once did, but it is concealed within your decisions. It is concealed within your mistakes. You don’t discriminate out front, you say oh well we are out of paper. You say you got your precinct changed 2 days before the election, that’s how you discriminate in 2020.
There is a motion to create a Board of Commissioner approved task force to oversee the elections process and early voting.
The motion passes 4 yea’s to 2 nay’s.
A motion for a partnership between the Dept of Behavioral Health and Partners for Home on the establishment of 550 permanent supportive housing units over the next 5 years.
The motion passes unanimously.
M.A: Anyone living right now sees what’s going on, it should be self explanatory. We all saw George Floyd lose his life, it shouldn’t happen. We saw Rayshard Brooks lose his life, it shouldn’t happen. At best he should be in jail for DUI. he should not be dead.
A resolution urging Fulton Co Law enforcement partners to reinforce and enact additional policies limiting all personnel from employing a neck restraint or chokehold to restrain people being taken into or in police custody,
The motion passes unanimously.
R.P: It applies to unincorporated Fulton Co. and encourages all other departments and cities within the county to do the same.
A resolution urging Fulton Co. law enforcement partners to reinforce and enact additional policies limiting all personnel from employing deadly force to only those circumstances where a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others is imminent and for other purposes.
The motion passes unanimously.
A resolution urging Fulton Co. law enforcement partners to reinforce and enact additional policies requiring all personnel to report incidents of potential officer or employee misconduct and for other purposes.
The motion passes unanimously.