Atlanta political stalwart Cathy Woolard Wednesday was tapped to lead the troubled elections operations of the state’s largest county, despite vigorous opposition.

Woolard was appointed chair of Fulton County’s elections board after strident criticism over her ties to Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger slammed the Fulton County commission’s 4-2 decision calling it a “blatant political appointment.”  

Raffensperger called Woolard’s appointment a conflict of interest since she is a lobbyist for Fair Fight Action. Woolard was paid $10,000 by the organization, according to a statement released Wednesday by Raffensperger. Fair Fight Action has repeatedly challenged state officials, including Raffensperger, over voting rights issues. 

Fair Fight Action spokesman Matt Krackenberger told Atlanta Civic Circle that Woolard worked as a consultant to the organization. Although she was registered as a lobbyist for the group she did little lobbying. Her work for the organization ended Monday.

Meanwhile, Raffensperger threatened to use Georgia’s new elections reform law to remove the entire elections board if Woolard heads the board. His threat may prove empty. Under the new Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021, the secretary of state is no longer a member of the State Election Board which is the only body that can take over a poorly-performing local elections operation. When pressed on that issue, Raffensperger said he would use his influence with the current State Elections board to achieve that goal. 

“Fulton County needs to think again before appointing someone who is bought and paid for by Stacey Abrams to run elections in Fulton County,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “Appointing a blatantly partisan and conflicted individual who is literally on Stacey Abrams’ payroll will do incredible damage to the already terrible reputation Fulton has for running elections.”

Woolard, a former Atlanta City Council president, succeeds Alex Wan who resigned in August after only five months. He is currently running for a seat on the Atlanta City Council.

Woolard’s appointment, along with a request for a $570,000-plus audit of the elections systems, drew the ire of people attending Wednesday’s commission meeting.

“Why do we need another $570,000 audit? Now you’ve got a Stacey Abrams surrogate to take over the board,” Roger Arndt, a 32-year resident said during public comment. “I’m supporting a [state] takeover.”

Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts, who nominated Woolard, defended his decision.

“The Chair of the Board of Registration and Elections is a presiding role and there’s nobody better to carry out those duties than a former President of the Atlanta City Council,” Pitts said in a prepared statement issued after the meeting. “I have personally served alongside Ms. Woolard and know that she is the right choice to lead the Board of Registration and Elections during this unprecedented time.”

He also took a few jabs at Raffensperger.

“I wish we had a Secretary of State who cared as much about Fulton County’s voters as he did about winning his upcoming primary, but unfortunately we do not. Thankfully, here in Fulton County, we now have Ms. Woolard to fill the void where his leadership has failed,” he said.

Woolard, a Democrat, joins the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections as it undergoes scrutiny for alleged mismanagement and faces a possible state takeover

As chair, Woolard has the tie-breaking role on the five-member board, which includes two members chosen by Fulton’s Republican party and two from its Democratic party. Woolard is a Democrat who ran for Atlanta mayor in 2017.

In addition to work for Fair Fight, Woolard has lobbied for gay rights, Planned Parenthood and Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates for the legalization of   Voluntary medically assisted euthanasia.

“My experience as a candidate and as presiding officer of the Atlanta City Council gives me perspective and context for the challenges we face as voters and public servants conducting safe and fair elections, Woolard said in a tweet Wednesday evening “I look forward to getting started.”

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