Fulton County Joins Other Trouble Spots on the 2014 Attempted Comeback Trail

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With a big national election on the calendar this year, several communities who have experienced voting problems recently are hoping that 2014 provides an opportunity for a comeback. Last week I wrote about Richland County, SC and its decision to go low-tech in addressing its challenges. This week, it’s Fulton County (Atlanta) GA, which in the last few years has been embarrassed by poor performance and some startling personnel issues in the county election office.

As in Richland, however, Fulton County is hoping and planning for a change for the better in 2014. The Associated Press has more:

Tuesday’s primary is the largest test yet for a Georgia county where past voting problems remain under investigation.

Fulton County officials said new leadership, overhauled staff training and extensive checks of the county’s voter registration records all will ensure a smooth day at the polls …

Loud complaints about the way elections were conducted in 2010 and 2012 put Fulton County under scrutiny. Accusations of incorrect ballots, long lines and problems with provisional ballots are in the hands of the state attorney general. Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Sam Olens, said she could not comment on ongoing cases.

Rick Barron, who was hired in June to run the Fulton elections division, said the county has made its own fixes. Barron said the agency has encouraged early voting, returned to in-person training for poll workers and done extensive checks on the county’s registration records, with more planned before November’s general election.

The county also brought in temporary workers months ago to help process voter registration forms. A backlog of those forms and not hiring enough temporary staff to process them were among the issues state investigators pointed out after the 2012 election…

An increase in early voting should [also] relieve some of the pressure on Tuesday, Barron said. More than 14,000 Fulton County voters cast ballots early according to unofficial totals released Friday, compared to about 7,700 in the 2010 primary.

With those state investigations still ongoing and a high-profile Senate race on the ballot, the County is facing a stern test to prove it can do the job:

Tuesday isn’t the first testing ground for those changes, but it is the largest since Barron took over. And in election management, every contest is a training session for the flood of voters who come out for statewide and presidential elections.

“If they have begun to get their house in order, they should be able to handle this primary with relative ease,” said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor who focuses on state politics and elections. “If they have problems that does not bode at all well for November.”

I know that many election officials across the nation get frustrated at all the attention paid to election problems, but when such problems occur I’m always interested in what happens next. Election Day will come whether an election office is ready or not – and how places like Fulton (and Richland) handle the pressure after not being ready previously is just as instructive as diagnosing what went wrong. Good luck to Fulton tomorrow and here’s hoping that voting is newsworthy only in good ways!

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