Carter Center to Monitor Midterms in Georgia's Fulton County

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Carter Center will provide nonpartisan observers to monitor midterm elections in Fulton County, Georgia, a Democratic bastion at the heart of metro Atlanta and at the core of former President Donald Trump's false assertions that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.

The Center, co-founded in 1982 by former President Jimmy Carter and Roslaynn Carter, announced Thursday it agreed to observe Fulton voting and vote-counting at the request of a bipartisan group of Georgia elections officials. The move is seemingly intended to ease partisan tensions over how elections are conducted in the state and boost public confidence in the final tallies. But it also comes as part of a new state law that Georgia Republicans could use to take over elections management in the heavily Democratic county that is home to Atlanta.

Elections monitoring internationally has been part of The Carter Center's operations for decades, but it has more recently turned its attention to U.S. elections, as distrust in democratic processes has accelerated in recent years. After the 2020 election, Carter Center officials monitored the audit of the state's 5 million presidential ballots that affirmed Democrat Joe Biden's victory over Trump.

The monitoring request is the latest turn after Georgia Republicans overhauled elections law after Democratic victories in the state in 2020. Soon after the law was passed in 2021, GOP lawmakers from Fulton County used it to trigger a "performance review panel" charged with assessing elections management in the heavily Democratic jurisdiction.

That prompted an outcry from Democrats asserting that Republicans planned ultimately to oust local Fulton officials and take over local elections administration. The law, however, doesn't exclude third-party monitors, thus allowing the joint request to The Carter Center by the review panel members and local Fulton officials.

Officials from both groups on Thursday endorsed The Carter Center's role .

"We are grateful to The Carter Center for providing their expertise and believe that it will help lead to an efficient resolution of the performance review process," said Ryan Germany, general counsel to the Georgia secretary of state's office a member of the Performance Review Board appointed to assess Fulton County.

Cathy Woolard, chair of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections, said the local panel is "glad for this opportunity to ensure confidence in our elections process," and she noted the Center's extensive work abroad as a measure of credibility.

Carter Center officials, according to the announcement, are monitoring the issuance and processing of absentee ballots, in-person voting during the early voting period and on Election Day, Fulton officials' Election Day operations, and post-election procedures in the county. The Center has promised a complete report of its findings by the end of the year.

Fulton County accounts for about 11% of Georgia's electorate. Biden won nearly 73% of the county's votes in November 2020. He won statewide by fewer than 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast. The county is about 45.5% white, 44.5% Black and about 7.6% people of Asian descent, according to U.S. Census data.

The county again will be key in the high-profile Senate contest between Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker, and in the governor's race between Republican incumbent Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. The Senate race will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final two years of Biden's term.

Since its founding, the Center has monitored 113 elections in 39 countries, according to CEO Paige Alexander.

In a statement Thursday, Alexander said the Center was providing "objective information about elections processes" is part of "building public confidence in elections." Alexander explained in a recent interview that rising distrust of the democratic process in America has demanded Carter Center attention.

"As we're encouraging people to come to the polls, it's because we want people to understand that the election, the integrity of the election is something that they can trust and that their voice would be heard," she told The Associated Press. "So we're walking down the same path that we do internationally and domestically."

Besides monitoring Fulton elections, the Center has launched an initiative asking candidates across the political spectrum to commit to a slate of fair elections principles. Among them: accepting the results and the peaceful transfer of power. In Georgia, Abrams, Kemp and Warnock have signed the principles, as have Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his Democratic challenger Bee Nguyen.