ATLANTA — Fulton County elections staff is working overtime to clear a backlog of thousands of unprocessed voter registration forms.
New elections chief Rick Barron discovered last month that about 14,000 applications hadn't been entered into the state's data system, he told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Being entered into that system allows voters to use touch-screen voting machines when they show up at polls.
That's the same kind of problem that led to a chain of failures during last year's presidential election.
Barron's staff had processed all but 3,500 applications and expects to have the remainder done by Monday, he said.
Barron also fired one of his top administrators, Sharon Mitchell, who served as interim department director during last year's election. Barron declined to explain whether he fired her because of the backlog or for other reasons. Mitchell didn't respond to messages the newspaper left on her cellphone.
Barron started his new job in mid-June and came to Fulton County from Williamson County in central Texas, where he spent six years as elections administrator.
Fulton's Registration and Elections Board, which hired Barron, wants him to overhaul the department, which has had a string of problems for years.
"My goal is to get this department organized and up to date," Barron said, "and there are some things that have to be done on time."
Hundreds of Fulton voters ended up with the wrong state legislative races on their ballots in last year's July primary.
In the general election, thousands of registered voters were missing from voter rolls because of slow processing. Some precincts ran out of paper ballots, and long lines formed as they waited for more. But some voters didn't wait.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp is still investigating what happened.
Mitchell told Fulton elections board members in April that her staff had been so preoccupied responding to state investigators' requests that they had gotten behind on processing applications.
Barron said he couldn't comment on that for legal reasons, but he said another staff member told him the department stopped entering applications that came from the state Department of Driver Services in February because the system was failing to automatically enter certain data fields correctly.
Barron said he saw how many pending applications hadn't been keyed in when the state's new voter registration system went live last month.
"It's hard to piece together what happened," Barron said. "Once you stop processing, and you're getting 300 to 500 per day, you can see how they could build up over time."
The unprocessed applications were all dated after last year's election. There have been no elections yet this year.
No other county has fallen this far behind or reported similar problems with Driver Services applications, said Jared Thomas, a spokesman for Kemp.
Mitchell, who worked for the county for about two years, was put in charge of the elections department last September after the previous director, Sam Westmoreland, resigned while he was in jail for failing to comply with sentencing conditions from two DUI arrests related to prescription drug use.
Mitchell defended the department's performance in the November election, saying minor problems in an otherwise successful election were overblown by the media.