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Nearly a year into a state-sanctioned probe of Georgia’s largest county elections operation, investigators have yet to release the findings from their performance review.
The State Elections Board appointed the three-member performance review panel 10 months ago to determine if the Fulton County Elections Board is operationally sound or should be taken over by the state.
“The panel’s work is ongoing,” said the Secretary of State’s office spokesperson Walter Jones. “I don’t think they had a deadline.”
Veteran Georgia political watcher Charles Bullock told Atlanta Civic Circle the ongoing probe indicates that the Fulton elections operation “is in a probationary period. [The performance review panel] can step in whenever they feel they need to.”
For an update, Atlanta Civic Circle contacted the review panel’s three members–Stephen Day, a Democrat on the Gwinnett County Elections Board; Rickey Kittle, a Republican who chairs the Catoosa County Elections Board; and Ryan Germany, general counsel for the Secretary of State’s office. Day and Kittle did not respond, while Germany referred questions to the Secretary of State’s office.
ACC also contacted the State Elections Board’s four members: Republicans Ed Lindsey, Dr. Janice W. Johnston and Matthew Mashburn, and its sole Democrat, Sara Tindall Ghazal. Only Ghazal responded, saying she wasn’t aware of any updates. Efforts to reach Cathy Woolard, the head of Fulton’s Elections Board, were also unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the State Elections Board will get a new leader this week, after going over a year without a chair. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed former federal judge William S. Duffey Jr. to the nonpartisan role of board chair on June 3.
Duffey, who is set to be sworn in on Thursday, was a U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta before retiring in 2018. He replaces Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was removed due to an overhaul of state election law and now serves as a non-voting, ex-officio board member.
As far as the Fulton performance review, Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, noted that there’s been no really big test, such as a major election, to measure Fulton’s performance thus far. That comes in November with the midterm election, he said.
Until then, he said, the review panel’s inaction indicates that Fulton elections officials are “meeting expectations. They haven’t been fired.”
Review panel members have visited Fulton operations during recent elections, according to Fulton election officials. The three-member panel’s mandate is to assess how Fulton maintains its election equipment, handles oversight of registration and elections, and complies with state law. It also is expected to look into any alleged election law violations.
The performance review was made possible by a series of changes instituted under the Georgia Election Integrity Act, an election reform law enacted last year that allows the State Election Board to investigate county elections operations alleged to be operating poorly.
While the review panel continues its probe, Fulton’s elections operations have undergone major internal changes. The elections office has been without a director since Rick Barron left in April, and the finalist to fill the job abruptly pulled out.
The state has targeted Fulton for years over how it manages its elections operations, citing complaints of poor management and long lines during elections, along with allegations of vote fraud. The vote fraud allegations later proved baseless.