A judge is ordering the unsealing of Fulton County absentee ballots as part of an review of the 2020 general election. In this file photo, Fulton County sorted absentee ballots during a pilot audit after the June 9 primary. Stephen Fowler/GPB
A Henry County Superior Court Judge will give a group of Georgia residents claiming many fraudulent votes were cast in the November election the ability to review 145,000 Fulton County absentee ballots.
Judge Brian Amero ruled Friday in favor of nine plaintiffs that Fulton election officials must unseal ballots challenged by a group led by Garland Favorito, a self-styled government watchdog who will hire the firm to conduct the review.
The review will be paid for by the plaintiffs, and its findings won’t change the election results.
The lawsuit alleges Fulton’s election staff of improperly counting absentee ballots and a host of other irregularities during the November general election when President Joe Biden scored an upset win over former President Donald Trump following a record voter turnout in Georgia.
Biden’s close win in Georgia was confirmed with a machine and hand recount of 5 million ballots. And a Georgia Bureau of Investigation-led audit of thousands of absentee ballot signatures in Cobb County did not uncover fraudulent votes. Still, top Georgia Republicans continued to peddle election fraud conspiracies months after the Nov. 3 vote, egged on by Trump’s claim the vote was rigged against him.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Rob Pitts said Friday it’s outrageous that last year’s Fulton’s election results continue to be challenged based on conspiracy theories.
“The votes have been counted three times, including a hand recount, and no evidence of fraud has been found,” said Pitts, a Democrat. “The fact remains that Fulton County safely and securely carried out an election in the midst of a public health pandemic. It’s a shame to see that the ‘Big Lie’ lives on and could cost the hardworking taxpayers of this county.”
But Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said this new review is also a result of Fulton’s sloppiness in managing elections over the years.
Raffensperger caught flack from Trump and many members of his party for an election he hailed as the most secure in the state’s history.
“From day one, I have encouraged Georgians with concerns about the election in their counties to pursue those claims through legal avenues,” he said in a statement. “Fulton County has a longstanding history of election mismanagement that has understandably weakened voters’ faith in its system. Allowing this audit provides another layer of transparency and citizen engagement.”
Voting rights advocacy organization Fair Fight tweeted Friday afternoon that it’s problematic to refer to the Fulton ballot examination as an audit when it’s not supported or being conducted by election officials.
“To be clear: The latest Big Lie news out of Georgia is a sideshow, not an audit. Media must not give it credibility through false word choices. Like Maricopa County’s discredited “audit” this is and will be a sham. #gapol”
Fair Fight’s Maricopa reference stems from a concern that Georgia’s process could deteriorate into a similar post mortem playing out in Arizona, where an audit of actual ballots ordered by the Republican state Senate is underway.
Election experts have railed against the mess, including security risks, caused throughout Arizona’s audit.
But Amero’s order requires that the ballots remain in the custody of Fulton election officials, which means the company hired by the plaintiffs would rely on scanned images instead of the actual votes cast.
The lawsuit casts doubt on the legitimacy of absentee ballots, referencing a video that sparked accusations of ballots improperly being pulled out by unmonitored Fulton election workers at State Farm Arena.
State election officials have debunked that theory.
November’s election results also led to Georgia Republican lawmakers passing a controversial sweeping voting overhaul that’s getting challenged in multiple lawsuits
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