In a stunning development Wednesday, Fulton County has denied The Georgia Star News the same chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election, that they purportedly gave to Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) News on or before June 17.
Fulton County’s Legal Assistant Shana Eatmon’s emailed response informed The Star News that there are no documents that meet our open records request.
SENT VIA EMAIL:
Dear Requester Morgan:
Registration & Elections has reported that no there are documents responsive to the information requested.
Please feel free to contact the office with questions and/or concerns.
xc: Steven E. Rosenberg, Open Records Custodian
The advisement by Eatmon comes just one day after she extended the response time to a June 22 request for a third time to August 6, The Star News reported.
Meanwhile, Stephen Fowler of the taxpayer-funded GPB News declared in an article dated June 16 at 2:46 p.m., which was later changed to June 17 at 3:11 p.m., that Fulton County is not missing ballots or hundreds of drop box custody forms.
The GPB News article came after The Star News report, “Fulton County Election Official Admits Chain of Custody Documents Missing for 2020 Absentee Ballots Deposited in Drop Boxes,” published Monday, June 14.
The Star News report was based on a June 9 email from Secretary for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections Mariska Bodison.
In her email, Bodison advised that in reviewing the documents they provided and their daily log of absentee ballot collections from drop boxes they “noticed a few forms are missing” and that “some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced.”
A COVID outbreak at the elections processing center was to blame, according to Bodison.
“[I]t seems when 25 plus core personnel were quarantined due to positive COVID-19 outbreak at the EPC, some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced,” advised Bodison in her email to The Star News.
Fulton County had provided documents on two occasions in response to The Star News’ initial open records request of December 1, 2020, for all of the November 2020 absentee ballot drop box transfer forms.
On January 22, Fulton County provided two files with names that ended in “BX1” and “BX3.” In addition to it appearing that transfer forms for about 30,000 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes were missing, there was, more obviously, no file with a name ending in “BX2.”
On May 3, Fulton County provided a thumb drive that purportedly contained a re-scan of all of the requested documents, including the ones previously provided and the ones that were missing.
The May 3 thumb drive also included a spreadsheet that Fulton County used to track the collections from 37 drop boxes during the 41-day November 2020 election period.
Using Fulton County’s spreadsheet as a reference, The Star News advised Fulton County officials that transfer forms for 385 of the 1,591 documented on the spreadsheet were still missing. Besides that number being 24 percent of the total number of documents missing, the missing transfer forms also represent 18,901 absentee ballots, which also equates about 24 percent of the number of absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election, as reported by The Star News.
After all of this was explained to election officials, and they were pressed to supply the missing documents, is when Fulton County’s Bodison admitted to The Star News that the chain of custody documents could not be located.
GPB News’s Stephen Fowler said in his article that he had no trouble obtaining the documents from Fulton County and, in fact, was able to obtain the documents within just a few days of his request, which was made the day of The Star News report.
Fowler reported on June 16 or 17 that after he “asked the county Monday, [June 14] about the forms not included in the Georgia Star’s request, elections staff located all but eight of the more than 1,500 forms, sent them to state investigators and provided them to GPB News on a flash drive.”
This was a point that Fowler reaffirmed in an interview on Wednesday, June 30 that he requested to have with John Fredericks, radio talk show host and publisher of The Georgia Star News, part of The Star News Network. Laura Baigert, the reporter for The Georgia Star News and The Star News Network who broke the June 14 story, also participated.
Fowler’s first question to Fredericks was related to whether The Star News had been provided with the missing absentee ballot drop box transfer forms and affirmed that Fulton County has them.
Fredericks and Baigert both responded that, no, Fulton County had not provided the documents even two weeks after he had received them and questioned Fowler as to the difference in the elections officials’ response to the two media outlets.
Fowler attributed the response he received to his longstanding relationship with Fulton County resulting from his coverage on the county and their elections.
Here is a transcript of that portion of the June 30 interview between GPB News’s Fowler and The Star News’ Fredericks and Baigert.
Fowler: So has Fulton County given you the form, the remaining forms that they have? Have they given those yet?
Fredericks: No. And we asked for those seven months ago. So we’re perplexed as to why you got them in 48 hours and we haven’t gotten them in seven months. Laura do you want to add to that?
Baigert: All I would add to it is that you got the documents within two weeks ago today, maybe a little bit more. And we still haven’t gotten them yet. So when they gave them to you, why haven’t they given them to us yet?
Fowler: And what I can tell you about that is for me, when I saw your story and the things were missing, I asked them. They said, oh, we have them. We’ll get them to you. We’ll get you the thumb drive. So I do not know why they haven’t given them to you yet or what their processes or why that is.
But because I’ve been covering Fulton County and Fulton County elections for years. When I called to ask about them, they said we’re finding them and they were working on them and we’ll give you them. I can’t speak to why they haven’t given them to you yet.
The Star News’ open records request, for which no documents were provided by Fulton County, now shows it is “completed” with a status of “No Records Exist” in Fulton County’s Public Records Center.
Of the approximately 76 percent of the chain of custody documents received from Fulton County, detailed analysis by The Star News revealed that 85 percent of the 59,000 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes represented on the transfer forms were not “immediately transported” to the county registrar as required by the State Election Board emergency rule promulgated in July 2020, and 5 percent were recorded as delivered before they were picked up, The Star News reported.
For 34 of the critical chain of custody transfer forms, Fulton County provided two different versions to The Star News.
While it is somewhat confusing to explain, the transfer forms that Fulton County provided to The Star News on the May 3 thumb drive have less information on them than the ones provided on January 22 – giving the appearance that they went back in time.
All of the questionable transfer forms were dated October 25, with the versions provided on May 3 missing information that was included on versions Fulton County provided on January 22, The Star News reported.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star, The Georgia Star News, The Ohio Star and The Arizona Sun Times.
Photo “Georgia Public Broadcasting building” by Daniel Mayer. CC BY-SA 3.0.