Security footage of Georgia poll workers lugging boxes of ballots out from under a table and scanning them after political party poll watchers had gone home for the night sparked controversy last week when the Trump campaign cited it as evidence of voter fraud, but upon further review the ballots appear to have remained in the proper chain of custody over the course of Election Day.
The Trump campaign showed a portion of the election night surveillance video from Atlanta’s State Farm Arena during a Georgia State Senate hearing on Thursday, claiming the footage shows poll workers shooing election observers out of the arena before proceeding to scan boxes of mysterious and possibly illegal ballots.
However, at a press conference on Monday, Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling said the ballots in question had been “packed into those absentee ballot carriers by the workers in plain view of the monitors and the press” around 10:30p.m. on election night, as seen in a longer version of the security video viewed by WSB-TV.
“The reason they were packed away was that they were under the misbegotten impression that they were getting to go home,” said Sterling, who serves as Georgia’s voting system implementation manager. “They were tired, and they wanted to go home, and they thought they could.”
The question of whether poll watchers from both political parties and members of the media were instructed to leave — and by who — remains unclear. Multiple media reports from election night indicate poll watchers were told to go home, multiple poll watchers have signed affidavits to that effect — and Fulton county public affairs manager Regina Fulton said on election night that poll watchers at the arena had been sent home, although she now denies they were.
“We have launched an investigation into why the monitors from the political parties left before scanning ended,” a spokesperson from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said in a statement to National Review. “While it was their right to leave early, we want to make certain they were not misled into thinking scanning had stopped for the night when it had not.”
Raffensperger’s spokesperson added that the secretary of state’s office has not encountered any evidence suggesting any improper ballots were scanned, either from the investigation or the independent monitor. The spokesperson also emphasized that the ballots were held in their proper containers the entire time and were not placed in “suitcases” as the Trump campaign initially suggested.
Also unclear is who made the initial call, eventually overturned, that poll workers could wrap up their work for the night. A spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office said they were not aware of who made that decision.
Sterling said that as Raffensperger was leaving for the day he heard that Fulton County ballot counters were “knocking off for the day, and he was understandably not happy with that and made that very clear.”
Raffensperger’s office then called the Fulton County elections director Rick Barron, who was not at State Farm Arena, and asked why his county was putting vote-counting to bed for the night. Barron was apparently confused and said they were not stopping yet, at which point the secretary of state’s office informed him that ballot counters at State Farm Arena were preparing to go home.
In the video, Fulton County Registration Chief Ralph Jones can be seen receiving a phone call from Barron informing him that poll workers must stay longer and keep counting votes, according to Sterling. At that point, the workers start pulling the ballot boxes back out from under the table, where they had just stored them, to continue scanning ballots.
“What’s really frustrating is the president’s attorneys had this same videotape. They saw the exact same things the rest of us could see, and they chose to mislead state senators and the public about what was on that video,” Sterling said, calling the race to get ahead of the disinformation a “ridiculous game of whack-a-mole.”
Sterling also attempted to clear up an allegation that a water main had broken in the arena and had been used as an excuse to clear people out, saying it was simply a urinal that had been turned off and sprang a “little slow leak that came over the side” while vote counting was ongoing. The events caught on the security footage also happened 17 hours apart from the water leak incident. He also denied rumors of “seized” voting machines in Ware County, saying that “did not happen.”
David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia GOP, has said it’s clear that party-affiliated poll watchers were sent home, but that ballot counting continued after they left.
“Georgia law requires that the counting be done in the open,” he wrote in a text message to National Review. “They did it in secret and they have repeatedly changed their story as to why.”
State poll monitors also weren’t present for some of the late-night ballot counting, but even if they had been, “the law still requires that ballot counting be open to partisan monitors and the public,” Shafer wrote on Twitter last week.
Shafer said that for weeks, state elections leaders “falsely denied ever having shut down or telling us to leave.” When asked about claims by the elections leaders that there were no chain-of-custody issues with the ballots counted that night, Shafer wrote that he has “zero confidence in anything they say.”
On Friday, Shafer filed a lawsuit on Trump’s behalf alleging that tens of thousands of ballots were illegally cast in the election by people who were not eligible to vote, including felons, children, people who are not on the state’s voter rolls, people who registered after the deadline, and people who also registered to vote in other states.
“Our lawsuit does not rely on theories about the voting machines,” he wrote. “Instead, we painstakingly show thousands of examples of ‘low tech’ voting irregularities and fraud sufficient in scale to place the election result in doubt.”
Georgia on Monday re-certified its election results following a third count of the state’s general election votes.
President Trump lost Georgia, usually a reliably red stronghold, to President-elect Joe Biden last month by a razor-thin margin of about 12,000 votes. Since the election, Trump has claimed he won a second term and refused to concede, arguing that voter fraud occurred on a massive scale in several battleground states he lost, Georgia no exception.
Editor’s Note: Ryan Mills contributed reporting.