After surprise withdrawal, Fulton elections director finalist shares his thoughts about the embattled office

Durham County N.C. Election Director Derek Bowens, left, talks to Donald Palmer of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.Screen grab by Tammy Joyner

Derek Bowens is no stranger to election problems, public attacks and federal investigations. The veteran elections administrator set in motion a turnaround plan to rescue Durham County, N.C.’s elections operation soon after becoming its election director in 2017. 

But just two weeks ago, he withdrew from consideration for the open position to head the embattled Fulton County elections office. 

“I came to Durham when it was, in theory, a very, very bad place,” Bowens told Atlanta Civic Circle. “After the 2016 presidential election, Durham got some national attention for some poll worker failures on Election Day and some election results issues.”

Today, the Durham County Board of Elections is nationally-recognized, winning awards for innovations such as a wait-time tool that lets voters know optimal voting times during its 17-day, early-voting period.

Bowens applied for the Fulton elections director job soon after the notice appeared in his email inbox, because he believed he could apply similar strategies to Fulton’s elections office, which has been dogged for years by complaints of long lines and mismanagement. 

“It was very intriguing,” Bowens said. “I thought my skill set would be good for the season that Fulton was in.”

He came to Atlanta for an interview March 24 and while visiting the Fulton election office, he ran into Fulton elections director Rick Barron, whose resignation took effect April 1. “We talked a little bit,”  Bowens said. 

Then, on March 28, he learned from a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections had chosen him as the sole finalist for Barron’s job. That “was very surprising,” he said. He withdrew from consideration less than 24 hours later.

Atlanta Civic Circle.

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