Georgia’s largest elections operation will not have a director for the May 24 primary – less than eight weeks away – after the top contender for the Fulton County job abruptly bowed out earlier this week.

The Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections named Durham County, N.C. elections director Derek Bowens as the sole finalist for the position on March 28. He would have replaced Rick Barron, whose last day was April 1 – after serving as Fulton’s elections director since 2013. 

Cathy Woolard

“It’ll be months,” before a new director can be hired, the Fulton elections board’s chair, Cathy Woolard, told Atlanta Civic Circle. With Bowens’ withdrawal, the board will restart the search from scratch, she said but declined to provide information on possible candidates. 

Bowens’ withdrawal upends a five-month search for Barron’s successor after the longtime Fulton elections director submitted his resignation on Nov. 3. Bowens did not return a call from Atlanta Civic Circle.

Rick Barron

In an exclusive exit interview with Atlanta Civic Circle published Thursday, Barron blasted Georgia’s acrimonious political climate, which he said sparked partisan changes to state election laws that make it tougher for election workers to do their jobs.

The Fulton elections board must fill a position that faces national scrutiny and the threat of a state takeover. “The fact that we’ve had at least six months of a State Election Board threat of a takeover, without resolution, would make anyone concerned about the security of an offer like this,” Woolard acknowledged.

“All I can say is the State Election Board needs to come to the conclusion that if they want to take over – take it over. If they’re not going to take it over, be done with it,” she added.

The Fulton election office’s looming state takeover threat was made possible by the sweeping election-reform law, SB 202, that Georgia’s majority-Republican legislature passed a year ago. 

Woolard said the Fulton elections board knew finding Barron’s successor “would be a challenge. The continued controversies that occur in the state around elections generally make it difficult.”

Barron and his staff experienced intense scrutiny for the 2020 elections cycle, and even before, plagued by long lines in the June primary, political misinformation over absentee ballots, harassment, and threats of bodily harm.

Nadine Williams, whom the Fulton elections board named interim director in mid-March, will head the 45-member office for the upcoming May primaries and the foreseeable future. Williams, who has more than a decade of experience in the Fulton elections office, had been in the running for the position.

Here’s Atlanta Civic Circle’s November interview with Woolard on becoming the elections board chair for Georgia’s most scrutinized county. 

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