011321_MNS_runoff_election_003 woman and man vote

From left, a woman and a man vote in the Jan. 5 general runoff election at the Peachtree Presbyterian Church precinct in Buckhead.

Fulton County’s top elections official said the Jan. 5 general runoff election, which broke records in the number of voters both in the county and statewide because Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats were on the line, was one of the easiest he’s experienced in his seven years on the job.

“We had relatively few issues yesterday and it was a very smooth,” said Richard Barron, the county’s director of elections and registration. “Early voting might have been the smoothest early voting we’ve administered. …

“We had a very successful Election Day. All 254 polling locations opened on time. We have approximately 7,500 absentee by mail ballots we’re going to upload today. That will conclude the absentee by-mail ballots until Friday, when we do the military and overseas ballots. We will then have provisional ballots (to count). We are congregating all the provisional ballots right now.”

Barron gave an update on the election at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 6 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In past elections, such as the June 9 primary where Fulton received national attention for problems with the polls that caused some voters to wait up to five hours to cast their ballots, Barron has been the brunt of criticism from commissioners, other county leaders and residents. But the opposite was true at the Jan. 6 meeting.

District 6 Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahmam, who was critical of Barron as a community activist before taking office earlier this month after defeating incumbent Joe Carn in the June 9 primary, was among those who praised him.

“Mr. Barron, you know in the past I have been very vocal when things went wrong, so I want to go publicly on the staff with Fulton County to thank you,” she said. “I did get some phone calls from persons (trying to vote) in the incorrect precinct, and they were able to vote in their correct precinct. I was pleased with what I saw out there yesterday. I would agree with you, especially with early voting. That’s the smoothest it’s been on record.”

Earlier, District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann said, “Compliments on that because I got a lot of communication about (Fulton) reporting (its results to the state) so early, so kudos to you and your team.”

According to the county’s website, 478,132 of Fulton’s 820,892 registered voters cast ballots in the runoff, a turnout of 58.25%. Barron said that figure is “about double” the turnout for the Nov. 3 election.

But Election Day wasn’t completely perfect. District 2 Commissioner Bob Ellis had some concerns about things that happened on or before Jan. 5.

“Do you have any sense of the volume of provisional ballots (cast)?” Ellis said. “I was a little bit dismayed that a precinct in my district (the North Fulton Annex) had 624 votes cast and 346 of those were provisional.”

“The North Annex and another site get a lot of (provisional) Election Day votes because they’re also early voting sites. That happened again at both of them yesterday,” Barron said of confusion some residents may have had about where their correct Election Day precinct is.

In response to Ellis’ question about an election-related court ruling Jan. 5, Barron said, “There was a consent order agreed to yesterday with the county attorney’s office. We were on (call) with another attorney. We agreed to certain parameters or monitors that were there to give them more access. We negotiated distance requirements and a couple of other minor measures.”

Ellis replied by saying, “We had to go through a court process to do this?”

In response, Barron said, “The county attorney gave us 24 minutes’ notice for this hearing, and Cobb County the day before agreed to something similar. … It would have been nicer to have done it sooner, to come to some sort of agreement, than on Election Day.”

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