Observer: Georgia county’s elections messy, not fraudulent

ATLANTA — Election processes in Georgia’s most populous county were badly managed, sloppy and chaotic, but there was no evidence of fraud, according to an independent monitor who spent many hours over several months observing county election workers.

Detailed notes kept by Carter Jones over the week of the general election in November and obtained by The Associated Press challenge many of the allegations of fraud and misconduct that have circulated since the election. They chronicle everything Jones saw in Fulton County from the evening of Monday, Nov. 2, the day before the election, through late on Saturday, Nov. 7, when the last ballots were counted.

“I spent nearly two hundred and seventy hours at various locations … watching every aspect of their election process and at no time did I ever observe any conduct by Fulton County election officials that involved any dishonesty, fraud or intentional malfeasance,” Jones said in an exclusive interview with the AP on Wednesday.

Fulton County includes most of Atlanta and reliably votes for Democrats in statewide and national elections. With roughly 822,500 active voters, the county accounts for about 11% of the state’s electorate. The county is about 46% white, 45% Black and about 8% people of Asian descent, according to U.S. Census data.

The county’s primary last June was plagued by problems, including hourslong lines and absentee ballots that were requested but never received, and the State Election Board entered into a consent order with the county to make changes for the general election. Jones was appointed as an independent monitor to oversee compliance.

After losing Georgia by about 12,000 votes, then-President Donald Trump fixated on the state. Making false claims of widespread voter fraud, he and his allies zoomed in on Fulton County, which has long had issues with its elections and has been a frequent punching bag for the GOP, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Jones said the election operations were characterized by systemic poor management and that there were also chain of custody problems and ballot bags that often weren’t sealed. While he realizes many of those problems contribute to some people’s doubts about the security of the election, he said the fact that he was there and “neurotically took notes” during the many hours he spent observing should provide some comfort.

He also noted that while the process was messy, the county managed to get it right in the end.

“They got it over the goal line. They made their numbers add up,” he said. “Yes, the vehicle was held together by duct tape and chewing gum, but it got over the goal line.”

His observations and report are also meant to help the county going forward, but Jones did express some concerns about that. So far, he said, he hasn’t seen any change.

“Fulton needs to address these mismanagement issues because they are becoming serious,” Jones said. “I mean, the eyes of the world are on the county and, you know, they’ve got butterfingers.”