Republican nominated to chair Fulton election board withdraws after backlash

People visit a booth set up by Fulton County to recruit new poll workers at the Alpharetta Farmers Market on Sept. 10, 2022, in Alpharetta, Ga. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)

A Republican nominated to chair Fulton County’s Registration and Elections Board has withdrawn his name following swift backlash from Democrats in Georgia’s most populous county. 

After an hour of public comment, the Fulton County Commission instead approved lawyer Patrise Perkins-Hooker, who currently serves as the election board’s attorney.

Democrats quickly mobilized against the first pick by Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts, a Democrat. The appointment of Lee Morris, a former GOP county commissioner, would have given Republicans majority-control of the elections board in heavily-Democratic Fulton County.

“It is clear that my nomination has become divisive, and that my service would continue to be divisive, which is the last thing that I want for our county,” Morris wrote in a letter, which Pitts read aloud at Wednesday’s meeting.

Perkins-Hooker will succeed Cathy Woolard, whose two-year term ends June 30.

Perkins-Hooker was the first African American president of the State Bar of Georgia and has served as general counsel for the Atlanta BeltLine and county attorney for Fulton County, in addition to decades in private practice.

Fulton’s elections department has historically been plagued by problems like long lines at polling places. A state investigation recently recommended against a state takeover of the board under Georgia election law, citing significant improvements in recent elections. The State Election Board is expected to decide whether to take action this summer.

Still, Fulton has been a top target for election deniers since the 2020 election, including former President Trump. That’s one reason Democrats raised red flags about Republicans controlling the board. 

In addition to a chair nominated by Pitts, the local Republican and Democratic parties each suggest two members, which have to be approved by the board.

Per the Washington Post, Republicans nominated Jake Evans, a former Congressional candidate endorsed by Trump who has questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and Jason Frazier, who is known for submitting thousands of voter challenges in Fulton County. 

Fulton County’s two Republican commissioners chided Democrats for rushing to judgment about Morris, who has bucked many in his party by making it clear the 2020 election was not stolen. 

“Personally I think he was the right person at the right time for our county, our state and our country,” Commissioner Bob Ellis said. “I think this was a missed opportunity and a loss for all Fulton County citizens.”

During public comment, Atlanta resident Lauren Waits questioned why Pitts had nominated a Republican in the first place, given the party’s track record recently with election integrity.

“I don’t understand why it took all these people coming out to convey to you the values that we hold dear,” Waits said.