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.

Garner was former assistant deputy elections supervisor for the Miami-Dade County Florida Board of Elections. He has served 14 years in elections senior level management positions.