(TNS) ATLANTA —The State Election Board appointed a bipartisan panel to investigate Fulton County’s elections management Wednesday, a performance review that could lead to a state takeover of the heavily Democratic county.
The review is allowed by Georgia’s new voting law, which passed after supporters of Republican Donald Trump criticized elections operations in Fulton, Georgia’s most populous county, after its voters overwhelmingly backed Democrat Joe Biden.
After the review is completed, the State Election Board will have the power to replace Fulton’s election board with a temporary superintendent who would have authority over vote counting, polling places and staffing.
State Election Board members said they hope the performance review will compel Fulton to fix problems with absentee ballot processing and vote-counting procedures. The board unanimously approved the appointees to the panel.
“I encourage Fulton to keep trying to improve and not just throw up their hands,” said Matt Mashburn, a Republican appointee to the state board.
Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democratic appointee, said the performance review was required by Georgia’s voting law following a request by several Republican legislators from north Fulton.
Ghazal said the performance review panel should resist “tremendous political pressure on both sides to come to preordained conclusions.”
“The narrative driving this pressure has been influenced by disinformation surrounding the November 2020 election,” Ghazal said. “But the fact remains that Fulton County voters have reported numerous problems for far longer than November 2020, particularly surrounding registration and absentee ballots.”
Elections in Fulton have for years been plagued by long lines, slow results and administrative errors, but a state monitor found no evidence of dishonesty or fraud last fall.
The county initially scanned nearly 200 ballots twice before a recount added 121 votes for Trump. Lines stretched for hours during last year’s primary. Some voters never received the absentee ballots they requested.
The performance review panel’s members are Republican Ricky Kittle, chairman of the Catoosa County elections board; Democrat Stephen Day, a member of the Gwinnett County elections board; and Ryan Germany, general counsel for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said the effort to scrutinize Fulton is driven by the “big lie” that the election results were fraudulent.
Three vote counts, both by machine and by hand, showed that Biden defeated Trump by about 12,000 votes in Georgia.
“This is the result of a cynical ploy to undermine faith in our elections process and democracy itself — it is shameful partisan politics at its worst,” Pitts said.
Efforts to investigate Fulton’s elections oversight have been building since last year’s chaotic primary and contentious presidential election, followed by approval of Georgia’s voting law that allows replacement of county election boards along with imposing new ID requirements for absentee ballots, limits on ballot drop boxes and many other changes.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp supported the effort to review Fulton’s elections as authorized by the voting law he signed in March.
“Fulton County has a long history of mismanagement, incompetence and a lack of transparency when it comes to running elections, including during the 2020 election,” Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said. “The State Election Board now has the ability to hold chronically underperforming counties accountable.”