Fulton County Board of Elections Meeting 08/12/21

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

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.

Agenda item: 

  1. Agenda approved
  2. Public comments: 
    • Janice Johnson; asked whether Fulton County is investigating widespread misinformation; asked about further use of temporary poll workers; spoke out against R. Barron’s management; requested that non-partisan people be hired as poll workers
    • Anna Tilman: asked if Fulton County is charging municipalities to conduct their elections; asked why funds are being requested for poll pads and other incidentals, i.e., has County lost inventory; asked about investigation of alleged falsified tally sheets; asked about cost of truck rentals.
    • John Nance: asked that future meetings be streamed via Zoom instead of YouTube so that residents in outer areas of county can have equal access to ask questions. The distances between the outer areas and Fulton County Government Offices prevent people from attending in person and so access is not equal; requested the County stop using temp agencies to provide staff
    • Nia Kirsten: stated she’s speaking on behalf of Brenda Thorne; spoke against continued use of Happy Faces temp agency, alleging that Stacey Abrams owned part of the agency – then corrected herself and stated Stacey Abrams owned another firm that had a relationship w/ Happy Faces. Used the remainder of her time to voice a series of allegations against Richard Barron and Happy Faces agency.
  3. Old business
    • Minutes from the July 8th public and executive sessions were approved
  4. Monthly operations report

Lots to report here:

  • Number of polling places in the county reduced from 61 to 59 (no reason given)
  • Training for workers has been updated per changes resulting from SB 202, esp. around advanced voting procedures (absentee and early voting). The curriculum has been revised and train-the-trainer starts next week.
  • Voter education updates also being done (see below for report from communications)
  • Logic and accuracy training for staff
  • Mobile buses are being reoutfitted from mobile voting sites to mobile voter education assets.  Major foci for voter education is on absentee ballot processes. Of note, there will be no voter education portal on the Secretary of State’s website; Fulton County will be the go-to portal for education and registration for voters. 
  •  New software has been purchased to help streamline all processes re: absentee ballots.
  • New Absentee Ballot division within the County Elections Office. Six new positions have been posted.
  • New inventory system has been acquired to track processes 
  • Mock elections will be held in September ahead of the October 12th mailing of absentee ballots.
  • Contracting process to get help with developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all County election processes is underway.
  • Efforts to reduce reliance on temporary staffing is underway. A total of 46 full time positions have been posted, and Mr. Barron expects to post another 12 positions over the rest of the year. Mr. Barron’s office is working w/ County officials to develop a staffing model going forward. As a side note, Mr. Barron clarified that the temporary agencies his office uses do provide employee benefits).
  • His office is working on COVID-specific safety measures for this election cycle.
  • His office is in the process of leasing a site to serve as “election central” for this cycle.
  • The “Easy Vote” program has been installed to work alongside “ElectionNet” and can step in if ElectionNet goes down for any reason; the temp agency the Office has been using can provide tech support for these systems if needed. SOPs are being developed to cover these kinds of contingencies.
  • Voter education is moving along (detailed below under Communications). A director position has been filled, and five voter education events have already been scheduled. 
  • In response to post-election assessments, the Office is working on quick reference guides for voters, and a “myth vs. fact” page is under development.
  • Reviewed numbers of new applications, letters sent to felons describing their rights once they’ve served their sentences; letters to those in jeopardy of being purged from rolls.

Questions for Mr. Barron:

  • From Ms. Crawford: sought clarification of start date for requesting absentee ballots: Aug. 16th.
  • From Dr. Ruth: reL poll worker training, how many are being hired? Ans: 10-13. Clarified start date for train-the-trainer (Aug 17th). Suggested focus be on high quality and consistent training w/ assurances that trainers are maintaining acceptable fidelity to the curriculum. Asked that training materials be uploaded to shared drive. Clarified that there are 9 positions currently posted, and that Mr. Eskridge is the new Director for the Absentee division.  Requested that a detailed process map/flow chart be developed and posted so voters can see the process for voters to obtain and return absentee ballots, and how they’re processed once they’re received back in the elections office. Asked whether there was sufficient time to hire and train staff before early voting begins in October; was assured that there is.
  • From Mr. Johnson: clarify plans for temporary staffing and new hires. Mr. Barron explained that the process puts downstream demands on Fulton County Human Resources and Payroll and is dependent on these departments’ abilities to keep up w/ new hires. Next question was whether mobile voter education buses will have registration and absentee ballot applications; answer was yes, they would. Next question clarified changes in SB 202 regarding the use of the mobile buses to provide backup in case of failure of equipment or other major difficulty at an individual polling place. Prior to SB 202, the County could deploy the buses to give relief to voters. SB 202 now requires the Governor declare a state of emergency before the buses can be deployed. Next item was a reminder to update the BOE website; the phone app is updated but the web site is not. Per Mr. Barron, this is being addressed. Next item: clarified that the Secretary of State election portal will NOT be available to support 2021 municipal and county elections. Next item: clarified that he BOE site is not able to receive uploaded videos. If voters or poll observers want to send images, the images must be in PDF or jpeg format. Final comment: the election office needs to be prepared in case we’re facing another COVID surge in October/November.
  • From Mr. Wan: Wants Mr. Barron and the office to “lean in” to key things such as absentee ballots, and echoed the request for a flow chart to describe those processes. Would also like a summary of how the Office is addressing problems that arose in the 2020 election cycle. Next item: need to wean off supplemental staffing as much as possible. Encourage office to consider what parts of the process the County needs to own, and what part can be delegated if the need for supplemental staffing arises again. What can we safely delegate to run elections?  As for planning for a possible COVID surge, expect more voters to use absentee ballots and vote early. Need to be able to add capacity for that. 
  • Mr. Johnson reminded Mr. Barron to call on BOE members if those members can be of any help addressing issues that arise.

There was a brief pause to honor a recent retiree, “Ralph,” whose last name was not mentioned.

Mr. Barron described finances for 2021 elections. Estimated cost for Nov 2nd elections approx. $11.6 million, of which municipalities will pay approx. $4.2 million. This represents a 300% increase over last year. The County is now covering 2/3 of the cost of municipal elections (this is new). This financial structure will need to be examined for the 2022 cycle.

  • Mr. Wan asked about the “no contact” list wand wondered if there have been any responses yet to letter sent to voters informing them that they might be dropped from the voter registration list if they don’t make contact. Staff replied that there have been no responses from any voter requesting reinstatement, but many notices returned as non-deliverable.
  • Ms. Crawford asked about the need for a temp agency to help w/ IT issues if needed on election day. Mr. Barron reported that the current temp agency, Happy Faces, has access to temporary IT techs and that has worked well. 
  • Dr. Ruth asked if Mr. Barron could share the location of “Election Central” that he referred to earlier in the meeting. Mr. Barron said he could not.

Proposed bylaws revisions. Mr. Wingate had proposed a bylaws change that would establish an ethics review process for alleged conflicts of interest. Mr. Wingate was not present to elaborate on the proposal.

  • Mr. Wan reviewed processes outlined in Fulton County policies and procedures and feels the BOE, as an agency of the county, would be covered by those. 
  • Ms. Crawford agreed
  • Dr. Ruth proposed tabling the discussion until Mr. Wingate could be present.

A second proposed bylaws change would establish a new position, called “party liaison.” 

  • Mr. Wan spoke against the proposal. He doesn’t feel the BOE is in a position to create positions.
  • Ms. Crawford agreed. She didn’t feel the need for such a position and felt that might add to confusion of roles. 
  • Dr. Ruth suggested such a position could help with voter education.
  • Mr. Wan stated again that he didn’t feel the BOE could create a new position

New Business

  1. County audit results
    • Mr. Barron summarized the County audit findings. First, the purpose is to improve operation processes and finances. He prefaced his response by reminding the Committee of the enormous challenges of the 2020 election cycle: responding to COVID demands; numbers of regular staff out sick; need for rapid procurement of equipment, supplies, and personnel. As a result, County departments, e.g., routine/standard practices were sometimes abandoned or sidestepped, and things were processed out of order, e.g. he described receiving invoices for personnel, equipment, or supplies the Office of Elections had not yet formally requested! Since that time, standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been revised/rewritten, emergency procurement procedures reviewed, and new positions posted.  He then answered Committee members’ questions:
    • Mr. Johnson asked if there was an audit done in 2019 to which the 2020 results could be compared. Answer: no. No audit had been done recently. 
    • Ms. Crawford: What is the audit cycle. Ans: there is none. This was undertaken to address allegations that had been leveled at the County. 
    • Dr. Ruth: please explain the reported lack of supporting documentation for procurements? Answer: that referred to a single issue around the Dominion voting system, and the problem was that Dominion kept track of their staff’s work hours with no monitoring by county. Procedures have since been revised so now the County will track work hours for temporary staff, not the vendors. Also a new financial manager will be hired by mid-Sept.
    • Mr. Wan: asked about outstanding SOPs to address. Mr. Barron – many SOPs are in development, but weren’t submitted to auditors because they were incomplete. All should be done by April, 2022, pending feedback from consultants.
  2. Communications report
    • Ms. Corbitt gave a comprehensive review of work by communications department. Materials being developed primarily to educate voters, staff, poll workers, with secondary targets of political parties, community organizations, elected officials, and journalists. Multiple formats being employed, including social media, broadcast media, direct mail, community engagement/partnerships, and person-to person communications.
      1. Focus for voter materials includes changes in absentee ballot applications and processing, early voting as best option, and election day “know before you go.” Key messages to voters include need to apply for absentee ballots early and ways to return them; changes in ability to use provisional ballots if voter shows up to wrong polling place on election day.
      2. Focus for poll workers and other staff is on recruitment and training, especially regarding changes brought about by SB 202, and differentiating roles between poll workers and observers; what are “dos and don’ts” for each roll
      3. Focus on fighting misinformation through social media and web site information. Address falsehoods directly. Included in this is need to protection election workers who are already subject to harassment and threats.
    • Mr. Wan: wants to be sure messages about use of absentee ballots and returns, esp. locations and hours of drop boxes, are clear.
    • Ms. Crawford: when will communications “toolbox” be ready. Answer: it’s going through review now; should be ready be end of August.
    • Dr. Ruth: can high school students be recruited as poll workers? Answer: this has been tried in the past, but students – both HS and college – have turned out to be less-than-reliable. In addition, the 2021 elections will not be a public holiday, so students will not be available.
  3. Approval of Intergovernmental Agency Agreements
    • Several of these covering Fulton County and municipalities were approved rapidly. 
  4. Polling place changes
    • Three polling place locations were changed (I couldn’t write fast enough to get all the details). One was split into two locations to reduce the expected number of voters/location; one was relocated over unspecified concerns for voter safety; and one was relocated because the original location could no longer accommodate the process. 
  5. One agenda item was added at this point, and that was to obtain preapproval for an E-SPLOST that is expected to qualify for the ballot. The request was for clearance for staff to continue preparing the item for the ballot. This was approved unanimously.

The Committee then adjourned for Executive Session.


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