Exit interview with Georgia's most high-profile elections director
Richard Barron is probably the most well-known elections director in Georgia, but it's not a status he sought.
The nationwide tension surrounding election officials catapulted Barron, who has overseen voting in Fulton County since 2013, from a relatively unknown employee to the target of threats after the 2020 presidential election.
Driving the news: It also played a role in his decision to step down.
- Barron announced his resignation in November but has remained on staff until the county could find an interim director. His last day is April 1.
- Last week, the county named Nadine Williams, a longtime elections department employee, the interim director, the AJC reports.
State of play: Barron isn't the only election official packing their bags.
- One in five election administrators across the country said they are “very” or “somewhat unlikely” to remain in their positions through 2024, according to a March 2022 survey from the Brennan Center for Justice.
- Directors in DeKalb and Gwinnett, as well as Augusta-Richmond and Macon-Bibb counties, have all left their posts since 2021. In his office alone, Barron said he had more turnover in 2021 than during his previous eight years combined.
- “You're talking about institutional knowledge walking out the door all over the place,” Barron tells Axios.
What's happening: Ahead of his last day on the job, Barron spoke with Axios about his time as elections director and shared his thoughts on the realities and myths of election fraud.
Barron is particularly critical of Senate Bill 202, which was signed into law last year.
It reduced the time voters can request absentee ballots, imposed new identification requirements for absentee ballots, slashed the number of absentee ballot drop boxes in counties using them the most and gave the state more power to control local elections.
He said bills like S.B. 202 are “unnecessary and don't do anything to improve elections administration.”
- “You've got elected officials that are trying to solve problems that don’t exist,” he said.
- Fulton County became the first in Georgia to undergo a performance review by a panel appointed by the State Elections Board.
Barron also criticized House Bill 1464, which would give the Georgia Bureau of Investigation original jurisdiction to investigate election fraud and other related crimes.
- He says the GBI will be used to “hunt down conspiracy theories, no matter how crackpot they are.”
Context: Fulton County is Georgia's most populous, with a little more than 1 million people. It's been widely criticized for its long lines at polling places and administrative problems, which led GOP lawmakers to seek a review of the county's election practices.
Flashback: How did we get here? Barron said the shift in attitudes toward elections administrators arose during Donald Trump's presidency and increased when Georgia came into the national spotlight during the 2020 election.
- Misinformation spread via social media and fake news websites fanned the flames, Barron says. Some members of staff were called racial slurs and he and others received death threats.
- “I think we've got a bunch of irresponsible elected officials out there that are just spewing misinformation,” he said of politicians who spread false information during the presidential election. “They don't care. They're just looking at their next election.”
What's next: Barron tells Axios he will not work in elections administration at the county level anymore. He's said he's taking some time to figure out his next move.
- “I'm going to miss my staff,” he says. “They're the one thing that keeps you going through all the tough times.”
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