Judge allows Fulton County absentee ballots to be unsealed for fraud examination

ATLANTA — Fulton County absentee ballots are set to undergo another review after a Henry County judge ruled Friday that a group challenging the county’s handling of ballots can move forward in gathering evidence.

This stems from a lawsuit filed on Christmas Eve by a nine of citizens challenging the chain of custody, error rates in ballot scanning and other alleged mismanagement in Fulton County.

The ruling supports discovery in the civil case.

Fulton County will retain custody of the ballots during the review process as required by law. But after multiple state led recounts and audits, including one requested by former President Donald Trump, this is not a ballot review that will be funded by taxpayers.

“If you want it, you pay for it,” said Superior Court Judge Brian Amero Friday. “That’s typical.”

“We’re prepared to do that,” answered counsel for the plaintiffs.

A review of roughly 145,000 ballots cannot change the certified election results but plaintiffs say it will prove a point they’ve been trying to make about how Fulton County mishandled elements of the process, like ballot chain of custody and legitimacy of an audit process.

“We’ve had three — what we feel like are illegitimate-- attempts to determine what the election results are and I think we’ll actually, this time, find out for sure what’s right,” said Garland Favorito, an election watchdog and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

This ruling marks the first advancement of this type of evidence in any case challenging similar claims throughout Georgia after dozens of Republican Party-led challenges failed to move through state and federal courts last year.

The plaintiffs told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that they don’t consider this an election challenge.

“What this case is, is about equal protection and all the voters’ rights in Georgia, because if counterfeit ballots were introduced into the count, they diluted the votes,” Favorito said.

“Obviously I was just stunned to think that it has gotten this far. It’s a circus that just keeps on going,” said Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts.

Pitts pointed right back to the multiple recounts.

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“It gets to be a little ridiculous what’s happening with this. Sometimes in politics, sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. In this case, the other side lost,” Pitts said.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was on the receiving end of calls from former President Donald Trump pressuring him to overturn election results, issued a statement Friday, supportive of recourse through courts.

“From day one I have encouraged Georgians with concerns about the election in their counties to pursue those claims through legal avenues,” the statement read. “Fulton County has a long standing history of election mismanagement that has understandably weakened voters’ faith in its system. Allowing this audit provides another layer of transparency and citizen engagement.”

Earlier this year, the state’s election monitor who was assigned via a decree with Fulton County, reported his observations of operations to the state elections board.

The monitor, a Republican serving in a non-partisan observing role, told the state that Fulton could improve upon sloppy management but nothing he’d observed over several months supported the claim of a stolen election.

His report came amid attempts to replace Fulton elections director Rick Barron.

Former U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who lost the January runoff election to Democrat Senator Raphael Warnock, issued a statement through her newly-formed voter registration group, Greater Georgia Action.

The statement reads, in part, “Unfortunately, inconsistencies in Fulton County’s November 2020 absentee ballots cast serious doubt on voters’ faith in our elections.”

“The integrity of future elections is critical, and Judge Amero’s decision is a helpful step in restoring transparency, accountability, and voter confidence,” more of the statement reads. “We look forward to the findings and their role in promoting transparency and rebuilding faith in our elections.”

Stacey Abrams’ voting rights group Fair Fight called the review “a sideshow, not an audit,” in comments to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The AJC reporting the group likened the review to a GOP-authorized audit in Arizona’s Maricopa County.

Details about the scope of the audit and how it will be carried out will be determined by the court at a later date.