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Fulton County Board of Elections Meeting 07/08/21

Board members: Alex Wan, Chair; Mark Wingate (R); Kathleen Ruth (R); Aaron Johnson (D); Teresa Crawford (D; newly appointed)

Staff: Richard Barron and members of his staff

Of note, mtg was held in person and televised on Fulton County’s YouTube site. I attended remotely.

Before the meeting, all members were formally sworn in by the Clerk of the Court, The Honorable Cathelene “Tina” Robinson.

Agenda item: 

  1. Agenda approved
  2. Public comments: two citizens spoke, both excoriated the Board for alleged mismanagement of the 2020 elections, and alleged illegal or unethical ties between Happy Faces, the temp agency that helped staff the 2020 early voting sites, and either specific board members (Aaron Johnson was named), and/or Stacey Abrams. No other comments were offered.

Old business:

  1. Minutes from the June 17th public and executive sessions were approved
  2. Monthly operations report

Lots to report here:

  • Surveys were sent to municipalities to get their needs for upcoming city elections. FCBRE will coordinate with them as needed
  • Polling places within each municipality were proposed
  • Looking at current and possibly new inventory management system(s)
  • They are revising training for poll workers to handle early voting, regular voting, and changes mandated by SB 202. Round tables have been held w/ current poll workers to get their input.
  • Mobile voting units have been refurbished to focus on voter education (see below for details on communications with Fulton County voters re: changes mandated by SB 202)
  • Lots of discussion about hiring and training staff for the 2020 elections, especially in highly contested mayoral races like Atlanta. There are complex financial and human resource (HR) issues to be addressed, but time is of the essence in order to have enough people hired and trained by the start of early voting, Oct 12th. Over 400 positions need to be filled; training will start in early August! Fulton County Board of Commissioners meets next week and Mr. Barron is encouraged that they will approve the plan to continue the contract with Happy Faces for the 2021 elections. In the meantime, Mr. Barron reported that the county HR team has reportedly found a way to hire staff quickly into positions deemed permanent and seasonal. This limits the county’s liabilities for paying benefits and makes it a reasonable alternative to using temp agencies like Happy Faces. Mr. Barron would like to continue w/ Happy Faces for this year in order to allow time for the county process to be implemented more deliberately, but it is a feasible “Plan B” if the BOC fails to approve renewing the contract with Happy Faces. In the unlikely event that neither of those plans works out, the third – and least attractive option – is to use multiple temporary agencies to staff the 2021 elections. Questions and comments from Board members: Wingate: reiterated his offer to help recruit potential workers, and clarified the onboarding process. Johnson: clarified reasoning behind choices outlined above; said he’s been getting calls from mayors to clarify options for managing their own city elections (Barron clarified that there may not be time for them to manage that); offered that mayors may be reaching out to their Fulton Co. commissioners for help with this. Crawford: wanted to know whether there was a full cost analysis for the various staffing alternatives (Barron: yes, one is happening now and will be ready in time for the BOC mtg next week). Ruth: will Mr. Barron be able to present both staffing plans before the BOC (not directly. If the BOC does not approve renewing the Happy Faces contract, the default will be the county hiring plan). Further discussion: BOC still needs to approve the disbursement of the $350k owed to HF for 2020 election staffing. What would happen if that isn’t approved as a matter deferred to the Exec Session for discussion.
  • A voter registration report was given by Shamir Marshall. There are now 857,612 registered voters in Fulton County and 36,862 inactive voters. The numbers of new applications have dropped significantly to levels not seen since the DDS implemented the “opt-out” approach on driver’s license applications; could this be because the option had changed back to an “opt-in” approach. Also reported that the office is receiving updated voter files from cities. Explained the process for removing inactive voters from files, i.e. those registered who haven’t voted in Nov 2017 through the 2020 election cycle. Those individuals will be notified by the Secretary of State’s office. If no response within 40 days, they are removed from the polls. Also reported receiving a petition to recall Mayor Bottoms (!) with 23 signatures on it. Also reported renewing contracts with 11 of 13 cities within Fulton County. In response to other questions, clarified that very few people are reported to have been removed due to “moving out of state”- this is due to reporting system with Sec of State; post-election assessment plan is posted on an internal website for viewing by Board members; logic and accuracy testing begins Sept. 27.

New business: 

  1. Election of vice chair: Dr. Kathleen Ruth was elected to a one-year term.
  2. External Affairs Communications update: The office continues to field questions/challenges to 2020 elections, but is now pivoting to communications in preparation for 2021, especially re: changes mandated by SB 202. The focus will be on ways to vote, by 1) encouraging early voting. This will be the cornerstone of the messaging. It gives the best opportunities for voters. The biggest challenges are for mail-in ballots. Staffing of early voting sites has a direct impact on implementing this to the fullest extent. 2) Emphasizing the changes associated with mail-in ballots, esp. changes in the timelines for applying and returning the ballots, 3) For election day, Know Before You Go, i.e. know your precinct, know hours, especially since they’ve changed with SB 202. Many approaches are being used: 1) updating the website – pulling down information no longer relevant and potentially misleading since SB 202. 2) widespread use of social media platforms. 3) direct mail. 4) advertising will be modest and targeted to key dates and facts, especially early deadlines for absentee ballot application and completion. Drafts of these efforts will be presented at the August BRE meeting. Marketing efforts will begin in September. The plan is to rebrand poll worker training to better support poll workers, especially with changes required by SB 202. Comments: Dr. Ruth emphasized the need to focus on how the public can observe processes under new rules. Crawford requested more communications re: the inner workings of the committee. The press will focus on Fulton County so we need to be out ahead of that. Wan: suggested focusing poll worker training on what is different in their work between 2020 (before SB 202) and now that SB 202 is the law. Also, consider how to reach those in Fulton County who aren’t connected to any internet or social media. In doing a direct mailing, need to find a way to stand out from the election season “clutter” that voters receive. In response, the communications team is looking to piggyback on other marketing efforts, e.g. co-locating voter information with vaccine information. 
  3. Approval of early voting locations: locations were read, discussed, and decisions made. 24 early voting locations were approved. Discussion: Wingate questioned whether there needed to be 2 Saturdays and 2 Sundays for early voting. In the end, the decision was yes, given the nature of several mayoral contests, esp. Atlanta, more early voting sights were better. 
  4. Proposed changes to polling places to account for changes in availability and to reduce the number of voters per site. The goal is no more than 5000 voters per polling place. After some discussion, the proposed changes were approved (Board members had details in their “packets”).

In response to some last questions by the Board, it was reported that the budget for polling places was calculated at a rate of $2.96/registered voter.

The public meeting adjourned at approximately 11:50 am.

Did you know that the public can attend Board of Registration and Elections meetings? 

These meetings are open to the public by Georgia law. Georgia Open Meetings Act.

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