In the current presidential election season, candidates and pundits have debated claims of “rigging” an election. Reporter Newspapers asked Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron to explain how officials prevent fraud and tampering.
Barron has been Fulton County’s elections director since 2013. He previously served in a similar position in Williamson County, Texas.
Q: Is it really possible to “rig” an election? Are Fulton’s elections secure from tampering?
Our voting system in Georgia in secure from tampering because it is a stand-alone, isolated system. Nothing is connected to a computer network or to the internet. The touchscreen voting units are only tethered by electrical cords. Our system is so decentralized in the United States, with each state having its own rules and in many instances each county operating independently, it is the most improbable country in the world to attempt rigging an election. Rigging talk is irresponsible and ignorant in those terms.
We conduct logic and accuracy testing on each machine before it goes into the field. Vote totals are cleared, as is required by the units, before they go into the field. They are sealed before we deliver them to polling locations. Poll workers verify that the public counts are at zero when they break the seals on Election Day. They also verify the seal numbers when they break the seals. They must balance at the end of the Election Day as well, to ensure that signature totals match vote totals.
Q: What are the main types of potential election fraud or tampering, and how does Fulton guard against each of them?
I have worked in this field for 17 years in government and in the provide sector. I have yet to see election fraud or tampering. I have been an international elections observer in Macedonia, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, and I have witnessed voter fraud and poll worker malfeasance. I have neither heard of valid claims in the United States where I have worked nor have I witnessed anything.
Our system is transparent, complex and decentralized. I think that being decentralized, being transparent and lacking uniformity is the best way to avoid fraud and tampering.
Q: Last year, the county admitted to errors in the 2012 election that left many voters off the rolls and mishandled or improperly rejected some ballots. What has the department done to fix those problems and ensure they don’t repeat?
In 2012 we failed to process voter registration applications on time. We failed to do this in 2004 and 2008 as well. This year we are going to finish ahead of schedule, meaning when Kennesaw State uploads our voter file, we will have completed processing all of our applications. That will be a first for Fulton County in a presidential election.
We have targeted the groups that generally vote more provisional ballots, students and seniors, by placing early voting outreach sites at 12 locations around Fulton County. In addition, we have increased our early voting offering from six sites in 2012 to 24 permanent sites this year. With the 12 two-day outreach sites, we plan on having at least 60 percent of voters voting before Election Day.
We are also going to have poll workers specifically assigned to walking lines on Election Day with tablets to check voters’ registration status. This will help us to direct voters that are out of precinct to the correct precinct.
A head of household mailing went to every house in Fulton County with a registered voter in order to remind voters where to go on Election Day and the options available during early voting.
Q: In your time as director, has the county ever caught anyone tampering with the vote?
No, no one has ever engaged in vote tampering in my time as director here or in my 17 years in elections in other jurisdictions.
Q: If a citizen has a concern about their vote or the way a poll is run, what should they do?
A citizen should contact our office in order for us to investigate the matter.