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Fulton County Elections Director On 2 Georgia Runoffs

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you happen to listen all the way through that phone call where President Trump asked Georgia to change its election results, you would have heard him mention one particular county more than a dozen times - Fulton County. Now, the bulk of the city of Atlanta sits in Fulton. This morning, when we stopped by the Fulton County elections office, phones were ringing.

RICHARD BARRON: These are just hate calls coming in...

KELLY: Wow.

BARRON: ...Just nonstop.

KELLY: Richard Barron is the director of elections in Fulton County. He told us those calls started ramping up on Christmas Day.

What do they say?

BARRON: Usually, they want me to go to jail and, you know, that I've committed fraud. I got a death threat last Thursday. We got a bomb threat on Wednesday for our polling places tomorrow.

KELLY: Tomorrow being the Senate runoffs here; runoffs which will determine control of the U.S. Senate. I asked Barron for his top-line reaction to the president's call.

BARRON: It's surreal. And, you know, my staff and I come to work every day, and we've been doing it this whole year. We have had 34 COVID infections throughout that time. The only thing we're interested in is trying to conduct elections as well as possible and making sure that the way we do it is in accordance with the law and the procedures set out by the state election board. So to have everything put into question is, you know, I guess disconcerting and disappointing.

KELLY: Let me, if I may - there were, as you will have noted, several moments where the president went after Fulton County explicitly. And I want to read you just a couple of them and let you respond to them if that's all right. I will read the direct quote. We have at least two or three...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Anywhere from 250- to 300,000 ballots were dropped mysteriously into the rolls. Much of that had to do with Fulton County, which hasn't been checked. We think that if you check the signatures - a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County, you'll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures.

BARRON: We only processed 148,000 absentee by-mail ballots in Fulton County, so I'm unsure where that figure's coming from. And...

KELLY: You're saying if every single one of them had been forged - and there's no evidence of that - that you wouldn't...

BARRON: Right.

KELLY: ...Have had that many ballots in the first place.

BARRON: Correct. And in addition, signature verification is done by comparing the signatures on the outer envelope to the signatures that people put on their driver's licenses. So all of our signatures are checked according to the official documents from the voters.

KELLY: So bottom line to that charge from the president about the integrity of elections in Fulton County - you're in charge of elections in Fulton County. You're saying it's not true.

BARRON: Correct.

KELLY: Another point he made - and I'll read this one - these are - he made a bunch of allegations about shredding ballots, about dumping ballots. Here's one moment. In Fulton, where they dumped ballots, you will find...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You will find that you have many that aren't even signed, and you have many that are forgeries. OK. You know that. You know that. You have no doubt about that. And you will find - you will be at 11,779 within minutes because Fulton County is totally corrupt.

KELLY: This has to do, as far as I can tell, with this video that purported to show containers of ballots being secretly counted after poll workers had gone home. This is a debunked claim that - the Republican secretary of state of Georgia had his office look into that. They found no problems. Is that correct?

BARRON: That's - as far as I know, that's correct. They've interviewed the people that worked that day. With regard to dumping ballots, I don't even know how to respond to that because I'm not sure what he means by dumping ballots and hundreds of thousands of them. I don't know what that means. And shredding ballots - we haven't shredded any ballots. If there are unused ballots, we can do that. But we haven't done that for the November election.

KELLY: Bottom line, given how many questions there have been in this election cycle about the integrity of our elections in this country and how many specific questions there have been about Georgia raised by the president and his allies and others, what do you want to say to people about the integrity of the election that you are overseeing?

BARRON: I think that our elections are without reproach. I mean, we come to work every day just to do this job because it means something to us. And what it's turned into this year is something that I don't think I ever anticipated seeing in my lifetime. It's concerning to me that we've got to this point and that a lot of things are put out in social media and the Twittersphere that just have no basis in fact. And I think there has to be some sort of education for the public that just breaks down and simplifies what goes on behind the scenes in elections because it is really just a set of processes that you go through, and you do it time and time again. And they're the same things we've been doing for years and years.

KELLY: Well, Mr. Barron, thank you. Good luck tomorrow.

BARRON: Thank you.

KELLY: That is Richard Barron. He is the director of elections here in Fulton County, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.