Why election integrity and voter trust are in the spotlight in Fulton County, Georgia

Early voting started this week in Georgia ahead of November's municipal elections. But almost a year after the 2020 election, some Republicans — including former President Trump — continue pushing false narratives of widespread voter fraud. A judge on Wednesday dismissed a Georgia lawsuit seeking a review of nearly 150,000 absentee ballots from 2020. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Early voting started in the state of Georgia this week, ahead of next month's municipal elections.

    But almost a year after the 2020 election, some Republicans, including former President Trump, continue to push a false narrative, that there was widespread voter fraud.

    Today, a superior court judge dismissed a Georgia lawsuit seeking a review of nearly 150,000 absentee ballots from last year.

    Lisa Desjardins starts with one key county.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, many headlines have centered on Fulton County, the most populous in the Peachtree State, home to Atlanta. President Biden won there with more than 70 percent of the vote.

    This week, as early voting kicked off, two county election workers were fired for shredding about 300 voter registration forms. Those removals were announced by Richard Barron, the nonpartisan director of elections in Fulton County.

    And he joins me now.

    Thank you very much, sir.

    Now, Fulton County has been in headlines for years with election problems even before you joined the staff there. But what do you say to people looking at this incident now, conservatives especially, who say, to them, this indicates the system is tainted? How do you respond?

  • Richard Barron, Elections Director, Fulton County, Georgia:

    Well, I think that it shows that we have employees in place and checks and balances in place that are able to catch something like this.

    When we became aware of it on — two employees became suspicious of it on Thursday evening. And by Friday morning, the three employees had reported this to their supervisors. And from there, we terminated those two staff members. So we took care of it as soon as we knew.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Did you know if this was intentional, then, by those employees, shredding those documents?

  • Richard Barron:

    We have no idea of the motivation right now.

    I mean, that — what we have done is, we reported it to the district attorney's office as — almost as soon as we found out, and then we made the call on Monday morning to the secretary of state's office to report it and ask their Office of Investigations to investigate it as well.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know that Secretary of State, the Republican, Brad Raffensperger, did make a serious charge about your county this week.

    In a statement he wrote: "The Department of Justice needs to take a long look at what Fulton County is doing and how their leadership disenfranchises Fulton voters through incompetence and malfeasance."

    How do you respond to that, and has the Justice Department reached out?

  • Richard Barron:

    The Justice Department hasn't reached out.

    And I'm not surprised. I mean, he's in a tight primary race for next year. And I think his press release is meant to play to his base. And it's politics. You can't take politics out of this. And that's where we're at with his press release.

    And it's usually he has set Fulton County up to be his foil. And he likes the relationship to be adversarial because it benefits him.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to talk about that idea of politics some more.

    As we reported, this is the largest Democratic-leaning county in the state. The state government is run by Republicans. And they have made your county the first one for this new sort of controversial way of reviewing elections. And you are currently under a review process in which the state could take over your election board.

    I'm wondering, are you concerned about any sort of political power play there, or no?

  • Richard Barron:

    They actually took the time to choose three really good people for this performance review panel. So I'm confident that the process will play out and that the state will find no reason to take over the elections board.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump continues to criticize your state, even as judges, including one just today, have dismissed lawsuits about fraud.

    I want to ask you in a more bigger picture way, what do you think is needed to help Americans trust their own election process more?

  • Richard Barron:

    Well, I think that there are basically right now a group of elected officials that are scared of their base, and they aren't being honest with people. They aren't leading.

    They're following their base, rather than leading them and telling them the truth. And I think that's the situation that we have here in Georgia and across the country. I mean, we have seen judges all over the country throw these cases out. The secretary of state's office provided the judge today with a lot of testimony that showed that they looked at these ballots that — where there were charges that they were counterfeit.

    And the judge made his decision partially based on what the secretary of state's investigators already found. And so I think what it did was just affirm the fact that there has been no fraud in this election, and that we need to move forward, rather than continuing to look back, and that the elections in this country are run well, and that they — that we need to become the model, because, if we keep questioning the system, then we become no better than any Third World country with election issues.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    From the front line there, what's your personal thinking or concern about the state of our democracy right now?

  • Richard Barron:

    I think it's on shaky ground.

    I mean, we need leaders to step up and start speaking the truth to people about the elections. The people that were reelected last year are not questioning the results of their own election. So, there's some hypocrisy there.

    Be brave enough to speak to their constituents about how the elections are run.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Richard Barron, director of elections for Fulton County, Georgia, thank you so much.

  • Richard Barron:

    You're welcome. Thank you.

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