Fulton County’s elections chief is resigning

During a Nov. 2 press conference, Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron reported that the municipal elections were running smoothly. He announced a day later that he would be stepping down as director at the end of 2021. Screen grab Fulton County Government TV.

Embittered Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron is resigning at the end of the year as an investigation by a statewide panel continues to probe the county’s election process. 

Barron submitted a letter Wednesday outlining plans to step down from the heavily scrutinized job after tumultuous years that will be remembered for hours-long lines during the summer 2020 primaries, endless conspiracy theories about election fraud in the presidential election, repeated calls for his firing and a state review of whether Fulton elections are persistently mishandled. 

Barron said the timing of his resignation will give the elections board enough time to appoint an interim director while it searches for a full-time replacement. 

He said he is proud of the work the department has done during his eight years to expand early voting, strengthen voter education, and lay the foundation for a new elections warehouse. The municipal elections he oversaw Tuesday went off largely without a hitch.

Since President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election by about 12,000 votes in Georgia, Barron and other Fulton officials have been forced to repeatedly defend the election results against conspiracy theories pushed by Trump supporters. 

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

“Since the November 2020 election, we have participated in multiple reviews, audits and litigation– all of which have failed to identify wrongdoing or malfeasance,” Barron added. “We stand behind our work and I know the team is well prepared for the 2022 elections,”

Barron submitted his resignation letter to Pitts and newly appointed Election Board Chairwoman Cathy Woolard a day after Election Day for Atlanta and other Fulton cities. Barron will remain on board through Nov. 30 runoffs which includes the Atlanta mayoral race.

Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts lauded Barron’s dedication to voters by leading elections throughout the pandemic while enduring personal attacks and for increasing access to the ballot box.

“(Barron) nimbly adjusted and implemented a sweeping absentee ballot drop box program larger than any other county in the state,” Pitts said. “Rick stood firm and remained committed to doing his job carrying out the most fundamental aspect of our democracy.”

While Fulton’s handling of the 2020 presidential election attracted national scrutiny in the wake of Nov. 3, a group of voters this year sued the county election board for access to its absentee ballots. Their inspection revealed that nearly 200 votes were initially counted twice, although that mistake had no effect on the actual tally.

In a reaction to those reports, Georgia Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and many of his GOP colleagues publicly called for an evaluation of Fulton elections, and Barron individually. 

A new state takeover provision under the law created by Senate Bill 202 allows for Republican lawmakers to trigger a review of Fulton elections operations.

“Months ago, I started the process to audit the 2020 election in Fulton,” Miller posted on Twitter Wednesday. “Today, Fulton Elections Director Rick Barron has formally resigned. We still have a long way to go – but we are draining the Fulton County swamp – and restoring integrity to Georgia elections!”

A superior court judge last month dismissed a lawsuit asking to inspect 147,000 absentee ballots cast by Fulton voters in the general election after noting that a Secretary of State investigation failed to uncover any counterfeit ballots.

Republicans and other critics point to a report from an independent monitor appointed by the secretary of state’s office who criticized Fulton’s election operations as sloppy during last year’s general election. 

Barron has also come under fire from within Fulton. Early this year the Fulton County election board voted 3-2 to fire Barron but were ultimately overruled by county commissioners.

While GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has defended the integrity of the state’s 2020 election results, he has also frequently called for Barron’s replacement as a necessary shift in Fulton election leadership to correct years of problems.

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