Eighty-five percent of the more than 59,000 absentee ballots deposited in Fulton County drop box locations during the November 3, 2020 elections for which Fulton County officials have provided chain of custody documentation were not “immediately transported” from the drop boxes to the registrar’s designee as the Emergency Rule of the State Election Board for Absentee Voting requires. Instead, they took more than one hour to be transferred to election officials.
Remarkably, ballot transfer forms provided to The Georgia Star News by Fulton County officials on May 3, 2021–six months after the November 3, 2020 election, indicate that more than five percent of these absentee ballots were signed in as accepted by registrar designees before they were picked up at drop boxes — a physical impossibility suggesting the time data included on those ballot forms is incorrect.
You can see an example of a ballot transfer form in which the registrar’s designee accepted the ballots before they were picked up at the drop box here:
50,653 of the 59,042 absentee ballots collected from drop boxes and signed for by the registrar/designee – or 85.8 percent – were not “immediately transported,” in accordance with the Emergency Rule, as evidenced by the transfer time (a) not being documented at all or (b) signed for by the county registrar/designee more than one hour after being collected from the drop box by the collection team.
Meanwhile, just 5,051 – or 8.6 percent– of the 59,042 absentee ballots collected from drop boxes were considered “immediately transported” by being transferred to the registrar/designee from the collection team in one hour or less.
Another 3,353 – or 5.7 percent– of the 59,042 absentee ballots collected from Fulton County drop boxes recorded a transfer time from the collection team to the registrar/designee earlier than the collection time from the drop box. Since the time could not have possibly been recorded accurately in the cases of the surrender time being earlier than the collection time, those ballots should also fail the “immediately transported” test.
(Note: 50,653 + 5,051 + 3,353 = 59,057, which is 15 more than 59,042, a slight discrepancy we are reviewing.)
The Rule of the State Election Board of the Georgia Election Code Chapter 183-1 for Absentee Voting states, “The ballots from the drop box shall be immediately transported to the county registrar and processed and stored in the same manner as absentee ballots returned by mail are processed and stored.”
The definition of “immediately,” according to thefreedictionary.com, is “without delay or intervention; at once; instantly.”
State Election Board Emergency Rule 183-1-14-1.8-.14 relative to securing absentee ballot drop boxes, which usurped the Georgia General Assembly that prior to 2021 had never authorized the use of drop boxes during an election in the state , was adopted by the State Election Board at their July 1, 2020, meeting.
Although more than 1,100 transfer forms documenting 59,042 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes have been provided to The Star News for review, six months after the election Fulton County has still failed to provide complete chain of custody documents for another 18,901 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election, which The Star News reported on here.
The transfer forms are critical chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited by voters in drop boxes to the Fulton County election registrar.
On two separate occasions in January and May, Fulton County provided files that included absentee ballot drop box transfer forms. The files provided in May also contained a spreadsheet that tracked the daily ballot count through the 41-day voting period for Fulton County’s 37 absentee ballot drop boxes.
Using Fulton County’s drop box absentee ballot daily count spreadsheet as a reference, approximately 385 transfer forms representing 18,901 ballots have still not been provided to The Star News in response to the open records requests, as The Star News reported.
The figures are approximated and estimated for two reasons. The first reason is that more than one absentee ballot drop box collection could occur in a day. Secondly, the number of ballots recorded on the daily count spreadsheet for the missing transfer forms may not be accurate.
The question of accuracy in the daily count spreadsheet data comes from the review of the spreadsheet itself and the more than 1,100 ballot transfer forms that were compared to it.
First, the daily count spreadsheet contains a mathematical error where ballot totals for two locations were double counted. Instead of the 79,460 ballot total recorded by Fulton County election officials on the daily count of absentee ballots from drop boxes, the total should be 75,449 – a difference of 4,011 ballots.
Then, more than 190 times the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet of drop box absentee ballots differed from the ballot count documented on the transfer forms. Those variances resulted in the number of absentee ballots recorded on the spreadsheet being 1,700 less than what was recorded on the transfer forms.
The 190 variances in the Fulton County absentee ballot drop box daily count spreadsheet are of two root causes:
- Typographical errors
- Changes to the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms that apparently occurred after the ballot count was recorded on the daily count spreadsheet
In fact, at least 270 times, the number of ballots recorded by the collection team on absentee ballot drop box transfer forms was changed. The changes presumably came from the elections registrar/designee to whom the collections team surrendered the drop box absentee ballots.
Of the 270 changes documented on the transfer forms, 228 times the number of absentee ballots were decreased, while 43 times the number of absentee ballots were increased. The changes resulted in a decrease of 473 in the absentee ballot count from drop boxes, as compared to what the collection team recorded.
In many of the instances of changes to the number of ballots on the transfer forms, the numbers were written over and made illegible. The practice of writing over required information on the absentee ballot transfer forms, which occurred routinely in Fulton County throughout the November election period, is a stark contrast to legal documents, where changes would be made clearly as well as initialed and dated by all parties involved in the change.
Looking at October 25, as just one of the 41 dates absentee ballots were collected from drop boxes in Fulton County, is a case study in its own right that resulted in a difference of 47 absentee ballots across 15 drop box transfer forms, and will be covered by The Star News in a subsequent story.
Another deficiency in the Fulton County absentee ballot daily count spreadsheet is the collections from Chattahoochee Hills drop boxes.
While not listed as one of Fulton County’s absentee ballot drop box locations, Fulton County provided in the files responding to The Star News’ open records requests 13 absentee ballot transfer forms from the Chattahoochee Hills drop box that totaled 31 ballots.
Other irregularities in the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms included a significant number of blank sections, that should have contained information required by the State Election Board Emergency Rule 183-1-14.
The Emergency Rule requires that the collection team complete and sign the ballot transfer form upon removing the ballots from the drop box and specifies that the date, time, location and number of ballots be documented.
The Emergency Rule also requires that the registrar or a designee “sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team.”
Listed below are the number of times information required by the Emergency Rule was missing from the examined absentee ballot drop box transfer forms from Fulton County, out of a little more than 1,110 transfer forms that were examined.
- Collection Time of Absentee Ballots from Drop Boxes – 37 transfer forms missing
- Drop Box Collection Team Member One Printed Name – 14 transfer forms missing
- Drop Box Collection Team Member Two Printed Name – 39 transfer forms missing
- Printed Name of Registrar/Designee Drop Box Absentee Ballots Surrendered to – 337 transfer forms missing
- Time Drop Box Absentee Ballots Surrendered to Registrar/Designee – 341 times transfer forms missing
Recording of the time that the absentee ballots from drop boxes were surrendered to the registrar/designee verifies whether the ballots were “immediately transported” – in accordance with the Emergency Rule – and is critical to the chain of custody of these history-making documents.
As with the analysis of absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes within Cobb County, The Star News used a very generous one-hour standard for evaluating whether absentee ballots collected from drop boxes in Fulton County were “immediately transported” to the county registrar/designee.
Combining the absentee ballot transfers that were recorded as earlier than the ballot collection time with those that were more than one hour increases the total absentee ballots collected from Fulton County drop boxes that did not meet the requirement of being “immediately transported” to 54,000 or over 91 percent of the 59,000 ballots documented on the transfer forms The Star News examined.
Further analysis of the absentee ballots that were transferred to the county registrar from Fulton County drop boxes more than one hour after their collection will be covered in future stories by The Star News.
While the list is extensive when it comes to objective inconsistencies in the documentation of absentee ballot transfers from drop boxes, when compared to other Fulton County documents as well as the requirements set out in the State Election Board Emergency Rule, there were also a number of subjective observations in the analysis of the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms.
Notes were sometimes added to the transfer forms and included statements, some of which further violate the Emergency Rule, such as the ones quoted here:
- “Unlocked box”
- “1 ballot unsealed”
- “1 ballot with no envelope upon receiving”
- “1 Carroll County, 1 Tallahassee, Fla”
- “1 Henry County, 1 Lawrence County, 1 Lawrenceville, GA”
- “3 DeKalb Co, 1 (illegible)”
- “1 Ketwood City Clerk – MI, 1 Orange County”
- “8 yellow ballots (Sept), 1 white/yellow (Nov)”
- “2 – last election”
- “1 Lawrenceville, GA”
- “2-Forsyth County, 1-DeKalb”
- “*Not on route. Did not go to box to collect * Spv Req drop off”
- “1 unmarked ballot counted as a ballot”
- “5 – last election”
- “1 Ballot not in proper envelope”
It is unclear from the documents provided how absentee ballots not in their proper envelope were handled or whether absentee ballots from other Georgia counties were redirected appropriately. The State Election Board Emergency Rule neglects to address the handling of any of the real-life situations that county registrars could encounter.
Yet, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced in early April that just three Georgia counties “failed to do their absentee ballot transfer forms” in compliance with Georgia Rules and Regulations.
Those three counties – Coffee, Grady, and Taylor – notably did not include Fulton County or Cobb County for their violations of the State Election Board Emergency Rule previously reported on by The Star News.
Raffensperger’s spokesman Ari Schaffer, however, admitted to The Georgia Star News that the Secretary of State’s office never looked at the chain of custody documents, they merely “confirmed with the relevant counties that they had them.”
The discrepancies and missing transfer forms for absentee ballots collected from drop boxes in Cobb and Fulton counties, as well as the violations cited by Raffensperger in three other counties, is set against a backdrop of a November 2020 presidential election that was determined by fewer than 12,000 in the state of Georgia.
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