Fulton County still has about 68,000 absentee ballots to count, plus a small number of provisional and military ballots to tally before it completes the results of the Nov. 3 general election, its elections leader said.
The delay means Georgia is one of a handful of states still with Electoral College votes up for grabs in the presidential election.
Richard Barron, Fulton’s election and registration department director, said about 42,400 ballots should be counted Nov. 4, with the remaining 25,000 possibly being counted the following day. He provided an update on the election at the county board of commissioners’ Nov. 4 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked by a commissioner when the first wave of ballots could be counted, Barron said, “9 p.m. to midnight range.” He added turnout in the general election should be close to the county’s projection of 80%, or about 620,000.
“We were hoping to drive 80% of the voters that voted to absentee and early voting,” Barron said, adding about 250,000 residents voted early in person, another 255,000 absentee ballots have already been processed and nearly 60,000 voted on Election Day.
He later said the county expects to count 1,200 to 3,000 provisional ballots, and the deadline to receive military ballots is Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. This year Fulton had 4.5 times more absentee ballots cast than in the previous presidential election in 2016.
While Barron said the 255 Election Day poll locations had no issues to report and short lines for voters, there were problems in the behind the scenes.
According to a WSB-TV report, Beltmann Relocation Group, a moving company, failed to deliver election equipment to 30 polling precincts in north Fulton the day before the election, forcing the county to scramble to find another way to transport it.
“They cancelled on us in mid-morning on Monday,” Barron said, later adding, “They said they had the trucks but no staff.”
District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who represents part of north Fulton and was angered by the news, disagreed.
“That’s not what they’re saying in the media,” she said. “To find out Monday night there were 30 precincts in north Fulton without equipment sent me into a tizzy. That north Fulton was at risk of not having precincts set up was very, very stressful. Mr. Barron, I know it was stressful for you and your staff. I know there was no plan for voter suppression that is something the county is accused of, (but) this cannot happen again.”
Also, Nov. 3 at about 6:07 a.m., a burst pipe above the ceiling in a room at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta, where Fulton elections department employees were counting absentee ballots, delayed the process. Though no ballots or machines were damaged by the water issue, it forced the workers to stop counting for at least two hours while the mess was cleaned up by Atlanta Hawks staff, Barron said.
With the pandemic still in effect and many voters possibly continuing the opt for absentee ballots in the future, the elections chief said he could avoid delays with those ballots in the coming elections if Fulton got help with more equipment and with the state Legislature.
“It took us a full eight hours to close out early voting (data),” he said. “It usually takes 90 to 120 minutes. … I talked to a (state) senator about getting his help (with a new law) to allow us to close out early voting at an earlier time. It holds up the process.”
Fulton spent $37 million on this year’s election overall. Barron also said the county has five openers/extractors, equipment it uses in counting absentee ballots, but may need many more. He added Philadelphia County, where the Pennsylvania city by that name sits, has 15 of them.
“For a county of our size, if we continue to have this volume, we need to continue to purchase more of these,” Barron said, adding Fulton may also need larger rooms/spaces for counting absentee ballots. “… That is one of the places where we get bottlenecked. They sit in those envelopes for a long time after they get here.
“It is a long, arduous process. … This is some of these procedures we’ll have to do. We’ll need to refine them. I briefed the Fulton County delegation (in the Legislature) recently about processes we can do to speed things up. Space and equipment will be the keys in the future.”
Barron also said the county should buy another piece of equipment, a juggler, “which will take a stack of ballots and spread them out,” to help stop further delays.