Election director in Georgia’s Fulton County resigning

Nov 3, 2021, 12:26 AM | Updated: 1:37 pm
FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2020 file photo, Fulton County Georgia election chief Rick Barron talks to ...

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2020 file photo, Fulton County Georgia election chief Rick Barron talks to reporters as workers scan ballots during a presidential recount in Atlanta. The elections director in Georgia's most populous county, which has been under intense scrutiny for its handling of elections, will step down at the end of the year, county officials said Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Fulton County Registration & Elections Director Barron has submitted his resignation, effective Dec. 31, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chair Robb Pitts said. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

(AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — The elections director in Georgia’s most populous county, which has been under intense scrutiny for its handling of elections, will step down at the end of the year, county officials said Wednesday.

Fulton County Registration & Elections Director Rick Barron submitted his resignation, effective Dec. 31, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chair Robb Pitts said during a news conference. The announcement came a day after municipal elections that saw short lines and few problems.

But the county, a Democratic stronghold that includes most of the city of Atlanta, has a history of electoral problems and has long been a target of Republicans, who have complained of sloppiness and mismanagement. It became a favorite target of former President Donald Trump, who blamed unproven allegations of fraud in the county for his narrow loss in Georgia last year.

Barron said in his resignation letter that he will be on hand for the Nov. 30 runoff election and will support transition for the department. He has been proud of the department’s accomplishments during his more than eight years at its helm, he wrote.

“Under the intense scrutiny of the last year, I believe our team has performed with grace and professionalism,” Barron wrote. “Even in the midst of threats to our personal safety, we have continued to make the interests of Fulton County voters our highest priority.”

Pitts and Fulton County Registration and Elections Board Chair Cathy Woolard sang Barron’s praises as they announced his departure.

“Mr. Barron was not forced to resign,” Pitts said. “I want to make that crystal clear. It was voluntary.”

Pitts said he and Woolard had breakfast with Barron a few days ago and talked about this with “mutual consent and agreement.” Barron’s continued presence would be “a distraction,” not because of any wrongdoing on his part but because of “naysayers” who continue to criticize the county no matter what it does, Pitts said.

“That kind of pressure, that kind of scrutiny for that long would wear on anybody,” Pitts said. “You have the former president and his minions, the secretary of state and his minions, daily blasting you.”

In addition to a torrent of insults from Trump, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly called for a change in leadership for Fulton County elections. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said Wednesday that the office had no comment on Barron’s resignation.

After a problem-plagued primary election in June 2020, when some Fulton County voters never received requested absentee ballots and others waited hours in line to vote, an independent monitor was appointed as part of an agreement with the State Election Board. The monitor, Carter Jones, observed the county’s elections operations from October 2020 through January.

He reported that he saw “sloppy processes” and “systemic disorganization” but did not witness “any illegality, fraud or intentional malfeasance.”

Amid a flood of criticism, the county election board voted in February to fire Barron, only to have its decision rejected by the Board of Commissioners.

Republican state lawmakers earlier this year used a provision in the state’s new wide-ranging new election law to initiate a process that could ultimately result in the replacement of Fulton County’s election board with an appointee chosen by the Republican-controlled State Election Board. A t hree-person review panel is currently examining the county’s election operations and will provide a report of its findings to the state board.

Woolard, who only joined the county election board in September, said interactions with the review panel have been “cordial,” and she said she didn’t know how Barron’s departure would affect the review. She said a national search will be held to find Barron’s replacement, saying, “I think it will be difficult.”

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Election director in Georgia’s Fulton County resigning