Does Stacey Abrams own 16% of a firm that counted votes in Fulton County, Georgia? No, that's not true: The claim is in reference to a company called Happy Faces, which was contracted by the county to provide staffing for the 2020 election. CEO Michael Hairston told Lead Stories that he owns 100% of the business. "There are no outside people, period. I'm it," he said.
The claim appeared in an Instagram post (archived here) published by "Real America's Voice News" on June 24, 2021. The post included a short clip of an interview with Vernon Jones, a former state representative in Georgia who is running for governor, and the following message:
Stacey Abrams owns 16% of the firm that counted votes in Fulton, GA
Users saw this on social media at the time of writing:
The post's claim echoed what Jones said during the interview clip. He asked conservative radio host John Fredericks:
Can you believe that Stacey Abrams owns 16% of a company called Happy Faces, and they're going around this country in swing cities, and they're literally hiring and providing the temporary employees who's actually counting the ballot?
Lead Stories reached out to Happy Faces to ask about Jones' claims. CEO Hairston responded in a phone call on June 25, 2021. He confirmed that Happy Faces had a contract with Fulton County for the 2020 election, as in previous years, but denied everything else Jones said.
First, the company only staffs in Georgia, not nationwide. Second, Hairston told Lead Stories that he owns 100% of Happy Faces, saying:
I'm the sole owner of the company. I own all stocks. ... There are no outside people, period. I'm it. Before that, it was my father.
Third, Hairston told Lead Stories that his company's responsibilities stop well short of running or managing elections. He said:
We provide staff. We do not train them. We do not create policy. We do not manage their election process. We don't do any of that. What we do is we provide staffing and we provide payrolling services.
We're providing qualified individuals, but it's their show.
The post's claim appears to have its roots in a purported financing statement from 2017. Just the News reported on the document, which can be seen here. It shows NowAccount as a secured party for Happy Faces. Abrams started NowAccount, which provides a payment system to small businesses. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Abrams owned 16% of NowAccount at one point -- perhaps that's where Jones got his figure, although he apparently mixed up NowAccount and Happy Faces.
When asked about the document, Hairston said he didn't recognize it. He recalled shopping around a few years ago for firms that could have provided different services or financing for his company. He said:
As I look back now, the NOWAccount people were one of those options that we looked into ... We turned all of it down. We didn't use any of them. We did look into them, among others, but they were never used, and that was in 2017.
Lead Stories reached out to NOWAccount to ask about its relationship to Abrams and Happy Faces. We also reached out to Fulton County and will update this story, as appropriate, if we receive responses from either.