By John Schaffner
With municipal elections approaching in November of this year in the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs, Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel told the Buckhead Business Association (BBA) June 25 that she was appointing an outside monitor to oversee correcting problems in the Fulton County elections office.
Handel, who as secretary of state oversees elections throughout Georgia, told the group of almost 90 area business executives at the BBA’s weekly breakfast meeting, “I think time is of the essence, because we have the Atlanta mayor’s race coming up in November and we need to make some significant progress in the management of the (Fulton County) office.”
Handel was responding to a question regarding a recent discussion by the Sandy Springs City Council of running its own election rather than having Fulton County do it—partially because of the fees charged by the county and also due to past problems with procedures within the county elections department.
Sandy Springs decided not to pursue the idea of administering its own election in November and renting the voting machines from an outside source other than the county, primarily because of the lack of adequate time. However, the door was left ajar for future elections.
“There are specific statutory requirements for who can run an election,” Handel explained. “A city cannot conduct an election without a certified city election official.”
“I completely understand the angst of wanting to continue with Fulton County given the issues,” Handel said of the discussions by Sandy Springs. Those issues in the past have included voting polls not being properly staffed and open during specified election times, misplacing of ballots, slow counting of election returns, etc.
“I feel optimistic that we are going to have some progress in Fulton County,” said Handel, who is a Republican candidate in next year’s gubernatorial primary and election. She said the outside monitor she was appointing this month “will be an individual of very high integrity and credibility who will oversee the progress at Fulton County.”
She also pointed out that Fulton County, where she served as County Commission chairman from 2003 until 2006 when she was elected Georgia Secretary of State, recently hired a new director of the Department of Registration and Elections, Barry Garner. She said Garner met with the state Elections Director Wesley Tailor even before he started working for Fulton County on July 8.
There are two other major issues that she has been dealing with during the post-presidential election time period.
The first is the continuing legal battle over Georgia’s Voter ID Law. The opponents of voter ID petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court “asking it to hear the case and overturn it. The court declined to hear their arguments so the lower court ruling to uphold photo ID remains intact and we will continue to go forward with Georgia’s photo ID,” she said.
The second is voter verification—a process that occurs with new registered voters through the mail. “When I came into office, Georgia had not implemented it, despite it being federal law,” Handel said. “We have to know that voters are who they say they are and, yes, they are citizens of America. That is what the process does. The list of individuals who are eligible to vote in our state or any state has to be accurate. If it is not, than the whole rest of the process is going to be undermined,” she added.
She said the final election issue is early voting. “Fifty-three percent of voters cast their votes early in Georgia. So, early voting is here to stay,” Handel stated.
She said one of the questions she gets is “How are candidates supposed to deal with 45 days of voting?” Her answer: “Not my problem. My interests are twofold: What is in the best interest of the integrity of our process and what is in the best interest of the voters.”
She explained, “It was abundantly clear that we had to have alternative ways to vote, because we were not going to be able to handle 4 million people in a day. You can vote by mail 45 days out, so why not be able to vote in person 45 days out?”