Fulton County Commission says elections director will keep his job for now

ATLANTA — Fulton County’s elections director is keeping his job—for now.

The county election board’s recommendation to get rid of Rick Barron failed to get the 4 votes needed to pass, so now, it will likely come up again at the next commission meeting.

The vote to accept the recommendation of the Fulton County Elections Board was split with three in favor and three against. Commissioner Natalie Hall abstained.

“We need to get an opinion from the county attorney as to whether it’s properly before us or not, but the bottom line though right now is Mr. Barron is still the director,” said Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts.

Overnight, the Fulton County Elections Board sent a letter to the Board of Commissioners apprising them of its recommendation to dismiss Barron.

The five-member panel held a public vote Tuesday, with a democrat crossing party lines to side with the two republicans on the board.

Those who voted to fire him cited long lines during the primary and sloppiness throughout several elections.

“Numerous mismanagement and procedural issues of great concern,” said elections board member Dr. Kathleen Ruth.

“My decision was based on not 2020′s election, but 2017, 2018, 2020,” said board member Vernetta Keith Nuriddin.

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Pitts is a supporter of Baron’s and told Channel 2′s Sophia Choi that the county made huge improvements under the leadership of the director.

Some commissioners question if this is the right venue for his potential firing.

“The dabbling of elected officials in the process of elections is a very slippery slope,” said Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis.

“Because it did not go their way, all of a sudden we’re on a slippery slope. Well, that’s why we have county attorney for,” Fulton County Commissioner Khadija Abdur-Rahman said.

Fulton County is the only county with this two-step process. In other Georgia counties, it’s all up to the elections board.

The chairman believes it should be up to the elections board and will ask lawmakers to change the rules.

Choi tried to get an interview with Barron, but he said he is not making any comments right now.

Meanwhile, the assessment of a poll watcher ordered by courts to monitor Barron and Fulton County election workers last fall provided evidence the board of elections used against Barron, but it may also be what saved his job.

“At no point in my more than 270 hours around Fulton County’s election processes from October to January did I see any illegality, fraud or intentional malfeasance,” elections monitor Carter Jones said. “Now that being said, I did unfortunately see a lot of sloppy processes.”

A court ordered Carter Jones to monitor the state’s largest county.

“I do want to underscore that firing Rick Barron isn’t a shortcut to fixing the mismanagement inside Fulton’s election department,” Jones said.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr was there Wednesday as Jones, a former foreign elections monitor with the International Republican Institute, briefed the state elections board.

He was chosen by the GOP-led elections office and approved by Fulton County to monitor the county last fall following a disastrous June primary that lacked staffing, training and resources in the pandemic.

In his report, Jones outlined dysfunction and improvement in what he described as systemic but fixable disorganization in areas such as accounting for the ballot chain of custody and poll opening delays connected to the elections warehouse.

“I was back there at 5 a.m. the next morning, Nov. 3, to see there were still election materials that hadn’t been delivered and the polls were supposed open in two hours,” Jones said.

He said much was improved by the January runoff, but public perception was widely shaped by poll watchers.

“We had folks who had no training and clearly no understanding of how the elections process worked coming down there thinking their party credential was a badge and a gun, and that they were going to ‘Stop the Steal’ or get involved and yell at election workers. We had multiple death threats to people’s faces,” Jones said.

“I understand that perhaps none of this happened, and it didn’t affect the outcome of the election, but it created tremendous distress, not just in Georgia, but throughout the entire country,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

So next week, the secretary of state, the attorney general and the Fulton County board will meet again to decide whether this monitoring continues.