by Robin Kemp
5:30 p.m. ADDS GOP reax over weekend, CCGARP presence, Judge Sams’ order extending poll times
5:00 p.m. CORRECTS minor typos throughout
2:55 p.m. UPDATES with Cooper’s explanation of contractor vs. county election manager
The Forest Park City Council is set to vote at its June 7 meeting on approving a contract with former Spalding County Elections Supervisor Marcia Ridley, who came under scrutiny by Republican state officials for her handling of elections.
On tonight’s work session and meeting agendas is a proposed contract with a company called Intact Consulting, which would handle elections for the city.
“Due to the recent passage of new Georgia Election Laws, the City of Forest Park expressed an interest in outsourcing its local elections,” the minutes read. “The city has been in contact with Clayton County Board of Elections, who will not be deciding until July 1, 2021, and Intact Consulting Services to engage in the rendering [of] election consultation and program management services for the local elections; as well as contact Dominion Voting for the equipment required to have an election. Due to the complexity in the new law[,] the City of Forest Park is looking to engage with these services sooner than later to ensure proper processes are in place. It is recommended to the council that the City of Forest Park move forward with engaging Intact Consulting Services and Dominion Voting for the November 2, 2021, Municipal General Elections Cycle.”
The deadline to register to vote in the November 2 election is October 4, according to the State Elections calendar.
A check of the Secretary of State’s online corporations database shows no articles of incorporation for such a company. A name reservation for Intact Corporation was filed by Ridley on May 13 and expires on June 12. No articles of incorporation appeared in the online database and the state Corporations Office confirmed that no articles of incorporation had been filed as of press time Monday morning However, Ridley told The Clayton Crescent Monday morning that she had submitted the articles of incorporation last week. It’s not uncommon for new corporate filing to take a couple of weeks to show up in the Secretary of State’s database.
City Manager Dr. Marc-Antoine Cooper told The Clayton Crescent, “It is my understanding that she is no longer with Spalding County, and it was a amicable agreement to part ways.” Cooper added that, “Per our City Attorney, the city can enter into the agreement with Ms. Ridley and Intact without the Articles of Incorporation. We don’t need then to sign an agreement for her services.”
The contract includes $26,009.59 to run the November 2 election for the city, $10,000 of which would be Ridley’s consulting fee, plus another $25,208.50 for Dominion Voting Systems ImageCast precinct tabulators and ballot boxes, supplies like black markers and 16GB compact flash memory cards, and on-site support on election day, among other items.
“There are a couple of reasons that prompted me to ask the council to move forward with the consultant,” Cooper explained. “First, we have several changes that has occurred with Georgia election laws, as you are aware under the SB202. These changes coupled with the fact that many are still looking to gauge its impact. Secondly, there are publication deadlines for posting qualifying dates, ordering machines, et cetera. Third, there is no guarantee that Clayton County will take over elections. We would not receive an answer from them before July 1. And lastly, our City Clerk [Sharee Steed, who told The Clayton Crescent that she would be going to the City of Hapeville] recently resigned, and we currently have an Interim Clerk [S. Diane White], but we are in the process of conducting a search for a replacement.”
Fulton, Forsyth, Spalding Counties
According to Ridley’s LinkedIn profile, she has worked as Spalding County Elections Supervisor (starting April 2017), Chief of Staff at the Georgia State Capitol (starting January 2016), an insurance consultant with MLR Consultant, Inc. (also starting January 2016), elections consultant with KNOWiNK (starting October 2016), elections consultant with GJS Consulting in Forsyth County (starting April 2016), early voting manager (starting February 2016) and registration officer (starting February 2006) for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections.
Before running for mayor of Forest Park, Angelyne Butler also worked for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections in 2016. The office was recognized for its elections work that year by the Center for Civic Innovation.
Ridley also serves on the board of Whitefoord, Inc., which provides school- and community-based healthcare in Southeast Atlanta, and is listed as the owner of S & R Security Services, Inc. with the Secretary of State’s Corporations Office.
When were voting machines updated?
Ridley came under fire from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and three members of the Spalding County Legislative Delegation–Sen. Marty Harbin (R-16, Tyrone), Rep. David Knight (R-130, Griffin), and Rep. Karen Mathiak (R-73, Griffin)–for her department’s handling of the November 3, 2020 election.
Voters had to wait in line for up to two hours to cast ballots on Election Day, with some voters walking away. Superior Court Judge Fletcher W. Sams extended voting hours through 9 p.m. after Knight and Mathiak requested he do so. Sams ruled that “all the precincts of Spalding County had outages where voters were unable to vote during periods ranging from 20 minutes to two hours and 35 minutes.” Under Georgia law, Sams wrote, voters are guaranteed “a twelve-hour window…to cast their votes in a primary election.”
“There’s a lot of people that left within the past hour and a half,” Ridley told 11Alive. “Hopefully, they come back and everybody gets their vote in, but right now, there is a lot of people who left within 30 minutes after they said the machines were down.”
Raffensperger said that “mismanagement and poor decision-making that put the integrity of their vote at risk.” According to Raffensperger, when Spalding County had problems “getting their voting systems up and running on Election Day,” Ridley told elections workers to use provisional ballots, instead of “one of the many workarounds built into the system or using emergency ballots as required by law.”
The difference between emergency and provisional ballots is that emergency ballots “are scanned immediately like other ballots cast in person on Election Day,” Raffensperger said, adding, “This violated established election process and possibly, Georgia law.”
In addition, Raffensperger alleged that “Ridley claimed an ‘update’ made to the voting system on the night before Election Day caused problems with the machines. No such update had been made nor had the voting machines been touched for days before the election.”
Raffensperger said that Ridley had spread the “rumor” about the update. Ridley denounced Raffensperger’s characterization of her statement, The GRIP wrote:
“The assertion that I spreaded [sic] a false rumor concerning the system malfunction is baseless. In fact, members of the Spading County Legislative Delegation filed a lawsuit to extend the voting hours of the Spalding County polls and cited a problem with the voting machines. The lawsuit was never formally served on the Spalding County Board of Elections and I was not summoned to court to testify,” Ridley said. “Our office has requested the Georgia Secretary of State to investigate the legality of the lawsuit and resulting order to extend the voting hours at all Spalding County polls.”
Ridley also told The GRIP that it was a Dominion representative who had said the machines were updated the night before the election:
“In reference to public comments made concerning a purported glitch during the 2020 Presidential Election, the Spalding Country Board of Elections and Registrations was initially told that there may have been a software update performed on the night before election day. I was informed that Dominion would be investigating to determine the cause of the computer malfunction that required our poll managers to utilize their access cards to allow voters to cast a ballot. Dominion completed their investigation and has assured us that no system can be updated remotely without the knowledge of Dominion. My office verified the data that was sent relating to the absence of an update by reviewing the Poll Book voter log files which indicated that the last voter file update to the pollbooks was done after the completion of Early Voting, on Saturday the 31st of October. Therefore, the investigation by Dominion has ruled out the possibility of an update on the night before the 2020 Presidential Election and Dominion stated that their Representative mis-spoke. As relates to the malfunction of the machine, it is still being investigated.”
In an interview with 11 Alive on November 3, Ridley and a representative of Dominion Voting Systems said there had been an update to the machines that neither office had known about.
Despite Raffensperger’s and the delegation’s calls for Ridley to resign, the Spalding County Board of Elections gave her “a vote of confidence” during a special called meeting on December 8, 2020.
In December 2020, attorney Dexter Wimbish, who was the acting legal counsel for the Spalding County Elections Board, defended Ridley during a press conference calling in turn for Raffensperger’s resignation.
Wimbish, a Democrat, was running for district attorney at the time. In February, he lost to Republican Marie Broder, who had been appointed as DA by Gov. Brian Kemp after Kemp appointed the previous DA, Ben Coker, to a Superior Court judgeship in the Spalding County Circuit.
“Ms. Ridley should be applauded on managerial skill, not attacked by a lame-duck secretary of state whose own party has turned against him,” Wimbish told Fox 5 News.
According to Politico, “The counties use voting machines made by Dominion, but the electronic poll books that experienced the glitch were made by KnowInk, a subcontractor to Dominion.” Specifically, poll workers could not encode the cards voters use to cast ballots. Both Dominion and Gabriel Sterling, who is in charge of the new voting system for the state Elections Office, said that the last update to the machines was made on October 21, not the night before the election.
At the Board of Elections’ January 11 meeting, Ridley said she had hired Wimbish “due to the improper aspect of the court order” and that she “had asked for consultation.” Member Roy McClain “questioned the bill from November 3,” asking what the scope of services had been and how the board could tell whether it had gotten “our money’s worth.” The board voted 4-1 to keep using the county attorney, with Chairman Bentley asking Ridley to specify the scope of services for a proposed part-time attorney with knowledge of election law who could step in should the Elections Board have a conflict of interest with the county.
On February 15, the Spalding County Board of Commissioners held an extraordinary meeting, during which Commissioner James R. Dutton took Ridley to task for having unilaterally hired Wimbish to represent the Board of Elections instead of using the county attorney. The commission voted 4-1 to have the Board of Elections “reallocate funding from their budget to pay the attorney, and to remind them they have access to the County Attorney at no cost to them and this type of violation of policy should not happen again.”
Also on February 15, Ridley told the Elections Board that, during January 19 early voting, “The Poll Pad went down again like it did on November 3, 2020 General and Special Election. It took 2.5 hours to fix.” The minutes also note that Ridley “stated that the Secretary of State’s office admitted giving bad data to KNOWiNK to program the Poll Pads. She noted that the Director is still not sure how it happened. Supervisor Ridley hired a technician to help with Programing of the voting machines/poll pad during the election. The technician also identified the problem and that caused the malfunction of the Poll Pad. One other issue we had was a voter came in started talking about voter fraud and was taking pictures at the polling place. Incident was reported to the state. In another incident, at Precinct 6, a Poll Watcher reported that an unregistered voter, voted, but the voter was registered and could vote.”
Also during that meeting, member Margaret Bentley said a public notice had appeared in the Griffin Daily News “of an intent to introduce some legislation regarding the Spalding Board of Elections,” apparently HB 769, which removed one member and replaced that seat with one appointed by Spalding County Superior Court.
Referred to state Attorney General
On February 24, the State Elections Board referred Ridley to State Attorney General Chris Carr’s office after an investigation had found 38 voters in the City of Griffin and 408 in the county in the wrong district. A second audit in 2019 had found 131 voters in the wrong precinct and 77 in the wrong House district.
Ridley was referred for three alleged rules violations:
- SEB rule 183-1-12-.02(4)(b)
- SEB rule 183-1-12-.06(11)(a)
- SEB rule 6 183-1-12-.02(4)(d)
Spalding County politics
The state has taken a great interest in Spalding County under Kemp’s Republican administration, including appointments to the county commission and Spalding County Superior Court, as well as crafting legislation specifically aimed at Spalding County’s Board of Elections that would include an appointee by Superior Court.
Gov. Kemp recently signed into law HB 769, a bill that prevents the Spalding elections superintendent from holding outside employment. The bill also removed one appointed member from the Spalding County Elections Board and replaced that person with someone appointed by Spalding County Superior Court. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Mathiak and Knight.
On March 1, The GRIP reported Spalding County Manager William Wilson announced his retirement as of June 30. On March 8, also reported by The GRIP, Griffin Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Christopher Charles Edwards met with Kemp to announce his resignation, clearing the way for Kemp to appoint a new judge. Edwards’ term was set to end December 31, 2022.
Spalding County also has a commissioner in District 5 who was appointed by Kemp, Clay Davis III. The commission voted to name Davis chair in February.
Sams, who granted the extension on Election Night at Knight’s and Mathiak’s request, was appointed to Superior Court by former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2010. In 2020, he was chosen to serve as administrative judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Georgia by 32 superior and senior judges on the circuit.
Ridley herself ran for House District 89 against fellow Democrat Bee Ngyuen in the June 9, 2020 primary. Nguyen won 83.3% of the ballots cast.
In July 2020, Ridley did a podcast with Dr. Kathryn Rice (the leading proponent of cityhood for Greenhaven, which would be a city the size of Clayton County in Southwest Dekalb) during which she discussed absentee voting procedures:
As for Kemp and Raffensperger, both were booed by delegates to the Georgia GOP Convention and Raffensperger was censured for his alleged “dereliction to constitutional duty” over the weekend. Clayton County Georgia Republican Party chair Garrett Ashley told The Clayton Crescent that “more than 15” people from the county party were in attendance:
.@BrianKempGA greeted at the Ga GOP convention with loud boos. He was speaking for about 30 seconds before it was quiet enough to hear him from the press area. But he got his first full applause when he mentioned Georgia being the first state to reopen during the pandemic. #gapol pic.twitter.com/4LcgRqkvoO
— Maya T. Prabhu (@MayaTPrabhu) June 5, 2021
Tonight’s work session starts at 6 p.m. and can be viewed on the City of Forest Park’s YouTube channel (https://bit.ly/3c28p0A) or via Zoom (https://bit.ly/3z6MXmf with meeting ID 834 2489 2769 and passcode 294814. You also can dial in by phone at (301) 715-8592 using the same meeting ID and passcode.