Georgia officials won’t take over elections in Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold

People sit at desks in a hearing room
Fulton County election board Chair Cathy Woolard, center, addresses Georgia’s State Elections Board on Tuesday at the state Capitol in Atlanta.
(Jeff Amy / Associated Press)
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Georgia’s State Election Board won’t take over running elections in the state’s most populous county, ending an investigation that had sparked fears of partisan meddling.

The board voted unanimously on Tuesday to end its performance review of Fulton County nearly two years after it had begun.

Multiple board members said that they want the county to continue to work on improvements before the 2024 election and not to backslide on work already done.


“The question is, are we going to draw a line in the sand and say let us go, be done with this, and leave us alone, which is a little bit of what I’m hearing ... or are we going to say it’s time to change?” said State Election Board Chair Bill Duffey.

Fulton County officials noted that the review panel found no violations of state law or rules across nine elections that it monitored.

“I’m proud of the work of Fulton County and what we’ve achieved in the last few years and feel fully confident moving into the future that we’ll be setting the standard for how elections need to be run here and across the country,” said Cathy Woolard, the outgoing chair of the Fulton County election board.

A report by a special grand jury in Georgia investigating possible interference in the 2020 election will remain secret while a judge considers its release.

Jan. 24, 2023

A takeover legally required state officials to find the county violated state election law or rules three times in the previous two election cycles and hadn’t fixed violations, or to find county officials had shown “nonfeasance, malfeasance or gross negligence” in two elections over two years.

If the county board had been removed, the state board would have appointed a temporary administrator.

The State Election Board appointed a three-person panel in August 2021 after Republican lawmakers used a provision of a sweeping election law passed earlier that year to request a review of Fulton County’s handling of elections.


The bipartisan review panel found Fulton County had a history of election problems but has also shown considerable improvement, with the panel recommending in January that the state not take over.

Former President Trump had zeroed in on the county after he lost Georgia by a slim margin in the November 2020 general election. In phone calls to state election officials and in public comments, Trump made unfounded claims of widespread election fraud in Fulton.

Actions he took as he tried to overturn his election loss, including a phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, led Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis to open a still-ongoing investigation into whether Trump and others illegally meddled in the state’s election.

Donald Trump has officially declared himself a candidate for president in 2024, but that won’t shield him from the same criminal investigations that confront him as an ordinary citizen.

Nov. 16, 2022

Fulton County includes most of the city of Atlanta and is home to about 11% of the state’s electorate. A Democratic stronghold, it has long been targeted by Republicans, and Democrats said they feared the 2021 law would be used by Republicans to tamper with how elections were run in Democratic-controlled counties across the state.

That hasn’t yet happened, with one State Election Board member, Republican appointee Matt Mashburn, saying Tuesday that “the talking heads were wrong.”

“I think the process has been very good and thorough and everybody took their time,” Mashburn said.


However, most state board members and Fulton County officials said they believed the amount of time that unpaid volunteer review board members donated was unsustainable, and that changes to the process will be needed going forward to make it practical.

“A two-year process is really not sustainable,” said board member Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democratic appointee. “We do need something else.”

Duffey asked Fulton County to help develop a more collaborative review process, where counties could advise each other.