An analysis of ballot transfer forms from Cobb County reveals that 78 percent of the more than 89,000 absentee ballots from drop box locations, required to be “immediately transported” to the county registrar according to Emergency Rule of the State Election Board for Absentee Voting, took more than one hour to be transferred to election officials.
State Election Board Emergency Rule 183-1-14-0.8-.14 relative to securing absentee ballot drop boxes was adopted by the State Election Board at the July 1, 2020, meeting.
In addition to other prescriptive requirements for securing the absentee ballot drop boxes, which were placed at 16 locations throughout Cobb County, the rule also addresses the collection and transport of the ballots from each drop box location to the custody of the registrar.
“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 rule mandates.
As previously reported, the total time between the collection of absentee ballots from a drop box and transfer to the registrar took as long as 7 hours and 15 minutes, when documented as actually transferred on the same day.
More notably, there were at least 6 separate instances involving a total of more than 1,800 ballots that ballots were not officially transferred to the registrar until the next day. There was also one collection of 227 drop box absentee ballots was transferred 2 days later and another collection of 274 ballots was transferred three days later to the registrar.
The absentee ballot transfer forms are a critical piece of the chain of custody for absentee ballots placed in drop boxes throughout Cobb County.
The details contained in the 460 ballot transfers on 253 forms over five separate files provided by Cobb County Elections and Registration were analyzed for whether the absentee ballots from drop boxes were transferred from the two-person collection team to the county registrar within one hour.
The one-hour cut off is a very generous standard, in that even the farthest of the 16 absentee ballot drop box locations, according to Google maps and directions is well less than that standard.
One hour is also generous when compared to the State Election Board Emergency Rule which states “immediately transported.” The definition for immediately being “without delay or intervention; at once; instantly,” according to thefreedictionary.com.
More than 70,000 of the 89,000 absentee ballots collected from drop boxes – or over 78 percent – were signed for by the registrar more than one hour after being collected by a two-person collection team.
Most of the delayed absentee ballots occurred during the early voting period of September 18 to November 2 and during the day on election day, November 3.
All of the absentee ballots collected from drop boxes at or right after the closing of voting at 7:00 p.m. on election day, November 3, were transferred from the collection teams to the registrar in less than one hour.
In fact, the range of time for drop box absentee ballot collections to transfer to the registrar on election night ranged from a low of eight minutes to a high of 50 minutes across the 16 drop box ballot locations based on transfer forms that could actually be analyzed.
Three of the 16 drop box absentee ballot forms from election night could not be analyzed due to incomplete information:
– one election night drop box absentee ballot transfer form had no recorded transfer time to the registrar
– one showed an incomplete transfer time of 7:3 (incomplete minutes)
– one showed an incomplete collection time of 7 (no minutes)
The rule also requires that “The county registrar of a designee thereof shall sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team.”
Yet, there were instances where there was no signature or name of the registrar on the ballot transfer form at the time the drop box absentee ballots were surrendered by the collections team.
Since they were not in compliance with the State Election Board Emergency Rule, ballot transfers that were missing a signature by the registrar, missing the collection time by the collections team or missing the transfer time to the registrar were also included as being outside of the one-hour standard for the purposes of the analysis.
If the standard set on election night for the time between the collection of absentee ballots from the drop boxes and transfer to the registrar were used throughout the analysis instead of the more generous one-hour standard, greater than 90 percent of the transfers would have been in violation of the State Election Board Emergency Rule.
Using the time between drop box collections and transfer to the registrar established on election night as the standard in the analysis, however, would raise additional questions about compliance with the State Election Board Emergency Rule for ballots to be “immediately transported,” since some election night transfers took longer than the transfers made during early voting.
When contacted by concerned citizens about the previous report by The Star News, Director of Cobb County Elections and Registration Janine Eveler apparently took issue with the report.
Eveler responded via email to a citizen who had received additional details from the editor about the numbers/dates/times found in the open records request and asked for an explanation for the “HUGE” time gaps pointing out that “one was 2 days!!!!”
Eveler said, “If the reporter had bothered to contact us to explain the anomalies, we could have quickly cleared it up for them.”
Everyone picking up ballots from the drop boxes is a deputy registrar. The transfer form is documenting the retrieval of ballots by one group of registrars and the turning over those ballots to another group of registrars at the absentee processing center. At the East Cobb Government Center, where you see a day or two between those two transactions, the ballots were removed from the drop box and securely stored inside the government building where that box is located, until they were retrieved the next day on the way back to the processing center. That particular location is very popular and the drop box fills up quickly, so this is the way we prevent it from filling up overnight. The conclusion made by the publication that there were violations of the State Election Board Rule is factually untrue.
A registered voter in Cobb County expressed their extreme concern “about the lack of chain of command of the voter boxes.”
The voter attached a sampling of some of the transfer forms and pointed out “many of which have blanks where there was no check off or signature.”
The voter told Eveler, “These ballot boxes were very loosely managed and our trust in this process is very low. If you are unable to have someone watch these boxes 24/7 then consideration must be given to remove them as an acceptable part of the process and not allow them in the runoff.”
“As the Director of Cobb Elections- your action on this issue is imperative,” the voter told Eveler.
Eveler responded to the concerned voter, “This article is factually inaccurate. The reporter never contacted our office to validate any of their ridiculous conclusions.”
Eveler failed to backup her claim with any specifics that the article was “factually inaccurate.”
Cobb County is the only county in the metropolitan Atlanta area that has responded to The Star News’ Open Records Request in a timely manner.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.