Court-ordered review of Fulton County 2020 absentee ballots on hold

By: - May 27, 2021 6:38 pm

Fulton County attorneys are asking a judge to reconsider a court-ordered review of 145,000 absentee ballots cast in the 2020 general election. The lawsuit specifically targets ballots stored inside State Farm Arena on Election Day. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

A new challenge to a lawsuit filed by self-described election integrity activists is putting proceedings on hold just as the terms of a court-ordered review of Fulton County’s 2020 presidential absentee ballots were to get hammered out at an election records warehouse.

Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero canceled a planned Friday meeting to create a plan to review more than 145,000 absentee ballots after Fulton County’s Election Board filed a challenge to the lawsuit late Thursday. Instead, Amero set a June 21 date to hear Fulton County’s new attorneys argue why the review of ballot images should never get underway.

Fulton retained the Atlanta law firm Garland, Samuel and Loeb to prompt Amero to reconsider his order last week that granted a review of ballots cast in the Nov. 3 presidential election. The new attorneys include Don Samuel, one of the state’s top criminal defense lawyers.

A group of Georgia voters led by government watchdog and VoterGa founder Garland Favorito filed the lawsuit in an attempt to prove that fraudulent votes and other irregularities factored into President Joe Biden’s 2020 Georgia win.

The new attorneys representing Fulton County and its elections office say in Thursday’s filing Favorito and the other Georgians suing for the ballot review did not properly notify Fulton officials in the case.

In a request for Amero to dismiss Favorito’s lawsuit, Fulton’s attorneys argue that the county elections board is protected by sovereign immunity.

The lawsuit remains one of the last open cases in Georgia built on baseless claims of widespread fraud that helped Biden score an upset win over former President Donald Trump following a record voter turnout of 5 million Georgia voters in the November election. 

A machine and hand recount of the 5 million ballots, election audits and a signature review of absentee ballots in Cobb County confirmed Biden’s close win in Georgia. If the review of Fulton absentee ballots is allowed to go forward, it will not change the result of the certified Biden win  

Favorito’s lawsuit specifically targets ballots stored inside State Farm Arena on Election Day, where accusations of fraud were fueled by the release of surveillance footage showing ballot processing continuing after the media and poll monitors were told counting was over for the night.

Georgia’s Republican secretary of state repeatedly defended the 2020 elections as the most secure in state history and his office specifically rebutted the State Farm Arena conspiracy theory.

An independent monitor assigned by the Georgia secretary of state’s office found no evidence of wrongdoing by Fulton, but did note some sloppiness in the way the county manages its elections.

And last week Favorito declared victory with Amero’s ruling clearing the way for consultants to inspect more than 145,000 absentee ballots. But instead of the actual ballots, the consultants would review scanned images and official ballots would remain in Fulton’s custody.

“The decision was the third victory in a row for VoterGA petitioners in the case,” Favorito said following the May 14 ruling. “On March 15th, petitioners were granted conditional approval to inspect the ballots pending submission of a plan and list of inspectors. On April 13th, petitioners were granted access to all Fulton County mail-in ballots images produced by the highly controversial Dominion Democracy Suite 5.5 voting system.”

Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, said the lawsuit shows the lengths some are willing to go to to keep alive Trump’s lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. More than 70% percent of Republicans say they believe that Trump won Georgia.

“What I wonder about is what in the world can you find that would prove whatever your suspicions are,” Bullock said. “The argument is that the county counted some ballots that shouldn’t be valid. How are you going to prove that? It’s not like you can connect this ballot to that voter and say that voter shouldn’t have voted.”

If the review does press forward following June’s hearing, Favorito’s group will pay for it.

The potential of a high-profile challenge of the Nov. 3 results has Georgia’s Democratic Party and voting rights group Fair Fight worried it could develop into a messy ballot review that’s playing out in an Arizona audit.

On Thursday night, U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of northwest Georgia, and Florida’s Matt Gaetz hosted a rally in Dalton where 2020 election conspiracy theories flowed after they promoted the Arizona audit while visiting the state on Saturday.

But Bullock cautioned that the Arizona audit or Fulton absentee ballot review could have unintended consequences if the results are used to try to confirm suspicions. 

“It appears that there were a chunk of Republican voters who didn’t bother to vote in January (runoffs), because they didn’t trust the system,” he said “Well if indeed this feeds that distrust, are Republicans shooting themselves in the foot? I can’t imagine it making Georgians feel any more confident in how elections are conducted.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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