Georgia Elections Board Unanimously Approves Panel to Investigate Fulton County Processes

Georgia's State Election Board unanimously approved a bipartisan review panel Wednesday to investigate the election handling processes in Fulton County, where most of Atlanta is located, the Associated Press reported.

Fulton County is a largely Democratic region, and GOP lawmakers asked the state board last month to look into how the area handled elections and said they want to make sure county election officials abided by state voting laws.

The three-person review panel approved by the state board consists of Stephen Day, appointed as a Democrat to the Gwinnett County election board; Ricky Kittle, appointed as a Republican to the Catoosa County election board; and the general counsel for the secretary of state's office, Ryan Germany.

A preliminary hearing will come after the investigation within 90 days of when the original request to look into Fulton County was made. If the State Election Board discovers any wrongdoing, it would choose a temporary administrator to be in charge of the county's elections.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Fulton County Elections Workers
Georgia’s State Election Board unanimously approved a review panel to investigate Fulton County's election processes. In this photo, Fulton County workers continue to count absentee ballots at State Farm Arena on November 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The State Election Board took a step toward a possible eventual takeover of elections in the state's most populous county under a process outlined in the state's sweeping new voting law that critics argue could open elections up to political interference.

Fulton County has long been the target of Republican lawmakers' ire. Their attacks only increased after former President Donald Trump and his allies made unfounded claims that fraud in the county contributed to his narrow loss in the state. An independent monitor found no evidence of fraud or impropriety.

When GOP lawmakers asked the state board to appoint the performance review panel to investigate Fulton, it initiated the process that could allow the Republican-controlled state board to replace the county's board of registration and elections alongside an administrator it chooses.

The county is home to about 11 percent of the state's electorate. Democrats and voting rights activists have said the new takeover provision could allow political interference in local elections.

Under the new law, lawmakers who represent a given county may request a review of local election officials. In Fulton County, that's the county board of registration and elections. The review board is to be composed of "three competent persons," including an employee of the elections division of the secretary of state's office and two "local election officials."

The review board is tasked with conducting a complete and thorough investigation into the competency in the maintenance and operation of election equipment, the administration and oversight of registration and elections and compliance with state law and regulations. Then the board is to issue a report with evaluations and recommendations.

During the preliminary hearing, the State Election Board is to decide whether the matter should be dismissed or whether it should proceed to a full hearing.

The state board could suspend the county board if it finds evidence county officials violated state election law or rules three times since 2018 and have not fixed violations. It could also remove the county board if it finds that during at least two elections over two years the board has shown "nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence."

The State Election Board currently has a 3-1 Republican majority. If a temporary administrator to run Fulton County elections is appointed if wrongdoing is found, the county board could seek reinstatement. If the state board refuses, its administrator would remain in place for at least nine months. The administrator would have the authority to make any personnel changes related to running elections, including replacing the director of elections and all poll officers.

Fulton County, Georgia Elections Worker
In this Jan. 5, 2021 file photo, Fulton County Georgia elections workers process absentee ballots for the Senate runoff election in Atlanta. Ben Gray/AP Photo