A day after his staff oversaw a trouble-free municipal election, the head of Fulton County’s elections operations announced he will leave at the end of the year.
Rick Barron notified county officials Wednesday afternoon that he would resign Dec. 31 from the job he has held for more than eight years, the last year of which he spent under extreme pressure and, at times, death threats.
“Under the intense scrutiny of the last year, I believe our team has performed with grace and professionalism,” Barron said in his resignation letter. “Even in the midst of threats to our personal safety, we have continued to make the interests of Fulton County voters our highest priority.”
Barron, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday night, will stay to oversee the mayoral and other municipal election runoffs on Nov. 30.
Fulton Chair Robb Pitts praised Barron, who oversees a staff of 40 to 50 people and manages an annual budget in the tens of millions of dollars. Last year, more than $45 million was spent dealing with COVID and the presidential election, Pitts noted.
“I thought he had done a very good job for us under very difficult circumstances,” Pitts told Atlanta Civic Circle. “He was a true professional.”
Pitts dismissed rumors that Barron was forced to resign.
“That is totally incorrect. It was his decision,” Pitts said. “He thought it would be in the best interest if he were to step aside.”
Pitts first learned of Barron’s intention to resign on Sunday over breakfast with the embattled director and Cathy Woolard, who became Fulton elections board chairman in September amid strong opposition because of her ties to a voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams. Woolard was unavailable for comment.
Fulton’s elections officials have been criticized for years for, among other problems, long lines and voting machine glitches. But nothing prepared Barron and his staff for the immense pressure they’ve faced since the November 2020 election. Former President Trump’s voter fraud allegations and recount demands, amid a pandemic, put severe strain on the office. Then, in the midst of Trump’s interference, Fulton’s Board of Registration and Elections voted to fire Barron, only to be blocked by county commissioners. Finally, in September, on the heels of the state’s new election reform law, the State Elections Board appointed a performance review panel to look into Fulton County’s election management, putting Fulton at risk of losing governance over its election system.
“The naysayers are going to criticize Fulton County no matter what we do. We have a target on our back,” Pitts said. “[Barron] was like a lightning rod.”
After the polls closed Tuesday evening, two of the three members of the performance review panel appointed by the state elections board watched quietly as Fulton election staff monitored returns. Pitts later put out a statement praising the handling of Tuesday’s election.
Pitts said he does not know when the review panel will give its report to the state.
Barron’s departure is part of a national trend. After a year of withering scrutiny, political and public backlash, and death threats, election officials nationwide are quitting their jobs.
Death threats have become more common for Georgia’s elections officials. At one point, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his family stopped his grandchildren from visiting his home. Pitts confirmed to Atlanta Civic Circle that Barron and some election staff have also received death threats. A security detail now accompanies Pitts whenever he is out in public after he began receiving death threats about six months ago.
Pitts would not say whether Barron’s resignation may increase scrutiny from the state on Fulton’s elections operations.
Pitts concedes that some job candidates may shy away from the job because of the criticism and scrutiny Barron and the elections operation have undergone.
“But I think in the final analysis, they’ll recognize Fulton County is one of the more influential counties in the state, and that will give opportunities for someone to come in,” he said.
Fulton has 15 cities and 800,000 registered voters.
Pitts said the Registration and Elections Board will start a national search immediately and that he is “confident the county will find a well-qualified individual for the role.”