Registration Backlog Leads to Shakeup in Fulton County

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The new election official in Fulton County (Atlanta), GA has removed a deputy (who recently served as acting director) after discovering a huge backlog in registrations. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more:

Fulton County elections staff is working overtime to clear a backlog of thousands of unprocessed voter registration forms.

New elections chief Rick Barron discovered last month that about 14,000 applications hadn’t been entered into the state’s data system … [b]eing entered into that system allows voters to use touch-screen voting machines when they show up at polls.

That’s the same kind of problem that led to a chain of failures during last year’s presidential election.

Barron’s staff had processed all but 3,500 applications and expects to have the remainder done by Monday, he said.

Barron also fired one of his top administrators, Sharon Mitchell, who served as interim department director during last year’s election. Barron declined to explain whether he fired her because of the backlog or for other reasons. Mitchell didn’t respond to messages the newspaper left on her cellphone.

Barron started his new job in mid-June and came to Fulton County from Williamson County in central Texas, where he spent six years as elections administrator.

The revelation about the registration forms is just the latest in a string of problems that led to Barron’s hiring:

Hundreds of Fulton voters ended up with the wrong state legislative races on their ballots in last year’s July primary.

In the general election, thousands of registered voters were missing from voter rolls because of slow processing. Some precincts ran out of paper ballots, and long lines formed as they waited for more. But some voters didn’t wait.

Moreover, it isn’t entirely clear how the backlog occurred:

Mitchell told Fulton elections board members in April that her staff had been so preoccupied responding to state investigators’ requests that they had gotten behind on processing applications.

Barron said he couldn’t comment on that for legal reasons, but he said another staff member told him the department stopped entering applications that came from the state Department of Driver Services in February because the system was failing to automatically enter certain data fields correctly.

Barron said he saw how many pending applications hadn’t been keyed in when the state’s new voter registration system went live last month.

“It’s hard to piece together what happened,” Barron said. “Once you stop processing, and you’re getting 300 to 500 per day, you can see how they could build up over time.”

The good news is that the backlog doesn’t appear to have affected any voters yet:

The unprocessed applications were all dated after last year’s election. There have been no elections yet this year.

No other county has fallen this far behind or reported similar problems with Driver Services applications, said Jared Thomas, a spokesman for [Secretary of State Brian] Kemp.

Here’s hoping that Fulton County – whose previous full-time director was relieved of his duties last September under strange circumstances just about six weeks before Election Day – can finally put the problems of 2012 behind it. Working through this backlog and diagnosing the root cause (which might include technical problems in-house or with the communication with Driver Services) will likely be job one.

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