Richard Barron, who oversees elections in Georgia’s biggest Democratic county, is announcing his resignation Wednesday – following a tumultuous year that has included death threats against him and his staff and the potential takeover of election operations in the county by state officials.
His announcement comes one day after municipal elections that he and other Fulton County, Georgia, officials said ran relatively smoothly.
Barron’s departure underscores the precarious position of election officials, who have faced unprecedented personal attacks in the last year and punishing new laws that threaten to sideline professional supervisors and install partisan actors in their stead.
Election observers have warned for months that the country could face a mass exodus of experienced election supervisors if the onslaught of threats continues, driven by relentless falsehoods that election fraud contributed to former President Donald Trump’s loss a year ago.
“I think we have a lot of cowardly elected officials who won’t let go of the ‘Big Lie’ because they are scared of their constituents,” Barron told CNN in an interview. “If they could have stood up, they could have put an end to this a long time ago.”
Barron said he’s faced a threat to “serve him lead,” and another that talked about “taking me out by hanging or a firing squad.” He previously told CNN that he had spoken with the FBI as part of an investigation into the threats.
Barron, 55, has led Fulton County elections since 2013. He said he will leave his post December 31. He said he plans to oversee operations in the runoff in the race for Atlanta mayor, which is scheduled for November 30.
His tenure has been rocky in recent years.
A June 2020 primary – during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – was marred by hours-long lines and complaints that voters failed to receive the absentee ballots that they had requested. The general election and the January Senate runoffs operated more smoothly.
Trump and his allies repeatedly targeted Fulton County with fraud claims, following the former President’s narrow loss to Joe Biden in the state. At one point, Trump asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the more than 11,000 votes needed to overturn Biden’s victory.
Republicans in the Georgia legislature cited election integrity and voter concerns about fraud to enact a sweeping law this year that imposes new ID identification requirements on mail-in voting and other restrictions. It also took aim at practices Fulton County used in 2020, such as mobile voting units, to expand voting opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic.
The law also paved the way for state officials to take control of local county elections operations, following a performance review.
In August, the Georgia state board of elections appointed a panel to review Fulton County’s operations – advancing an effort that could see a Republican takeover of this Democratic stronghold in a state that has become a crucial battleground in presidential and congressional contests.
Following the 2020 election, Barron became the public face of the county’s election operation – and a target for threats – as former President Donald Trump and his allies advanced debunked claims of Fulton County workers burning and otherwise destroying ballots.
But Barron has faced criticism for Fulton County’s operations from some state and local officials.
Carter Jones, a nonpartisan state-appointed monitor assigned to review Fulton County’s operations, reported this year that he had uncovered signs of “systemic disorganization” in the election office. But Jones said he found no evidence of “illegality, fraud or intentional malfeasance.”
A separate state investigation is under way after two Fulton County employees were fired last month for shredding voter registration applications.
Earlier this year, the county’s elections board voted to fire Barron, only to have the Fulton County commissioners overrule that decision and extend his tenure.