While DeKalb County officials have refused to indicate whether the extended leave of absence of Elections Director Erica Hamilton is job related, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a CNN interview that the leave was an outcome of an investigation related to the violation of absentee ballot chain of custody rules during the November 2020 election.
A joint statement issued by DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections Chair Dele Lowman Smith and Vice-Chair Nancy Jester announced that effective September 9, Erica Hamilton was on an extended leave of absence from her role as director of DeKalb County Registration and Elections.
Noticeably missing from the statement was whether Hamilton’s leave was related to her job performance and whether the leave was paid or unpaid, questions DeKalb County officials have declined answering, The Georgia Star News reported.
Raffensperger’s revelation about the status of Hamilton’s leave came September 20 during a near six-minute segment with CNN OutFront host Erin Burnett. Burnett said Raffensperger was on OutFront exclusively to respond for the first time to President Trump’s letter from three days earlier.
In the letter, Trump respectfully requested that Raffensperger review the report of 43,000 Absentee Ballot Votes Counted in DeKalb County that Violated Chain of Custody Rule, published August 30 by The Star News.
Burnett, who presented Trump’s letter as a demand to decertify the election, framed the report by The Star News to Raffensperger by saying, “Now he’s referring, of course as you know, to a report from a pro-Trump website which does not question the ballots or the voters themselves, right, but they’re questioning is on how fast the ballots were actually transported.”
As The Star News has reported, Georgia Emergency Rule 183-1-14-1.8-.14 promulgated by the Georgia State Election Board at its July 1, 2020, meeting, has specific requirements when it comes to the handling of absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes.
The rule states that absentee ballots placed in drop boxes “shall be immediately transported to the county registrar” by a two-person collection team.
The collection team is required to sign a ballot transfer form indicating the number of ballots picked up, the time the ballots were picked up, and the location of the dropbox, and that, “The county registrar or a designee thereof shall sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team.” (emphasis added)
Yet, of the 61,731 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes in the November 2020 presidential election in DeKalb County, 43,907 or 72 percent were counted in official tallies certified by the county and the state, despite violating chain of custody requirements set forth in the emergency rule.
– 28,194 or 46 percent of the absentee ballots were not documented as being received by the elections registrar or designee until the day after they were collected from the dropbox, with the range being between 13 and 22 hours later
– 15,713 or 26 percent of the absentee ballots collected from drop boxes during the November 2020 election had no receipt time recorded at all by the registrar or designee
Raffensperger responded by saying that the notification of the violations prompted an investigation and Hamilton’s extended leave of absence.
“As soon as we were notified of that, we began an investigation several weeks ago and coming out of it, the first thing that you notice is that the DeKalb County election official took an extended leave of absence, but we have an ongoing investigation of that,” Raffensperger told Burnett. (emphasis added)
Raffensperger went on to vouch that the ballots themselves were valid.
“But, to your point, the ballots themselves were approved and are lawful ballots,” declared Raffensperger.
Raffensperger presented no evidence, and Burnett did not ask how and by whom the ballots were approved and determined lawful.
Also, noticeably absent from the discussion was how the ballots could be lawful, if they violated the established chain of custody set out in the emergency rule.
The emergency rule itself circumvented the Georgia General Assembly, which is the only entity and laws being the only mechanism by which the Constitution of the state of Georgia authorizes any and all aspects of the carrying out of voting and elections in the state. Drop boxes were not authorized to receive vote by mail absentee ballots by the Georgia General Assembly at the time of the November 3, 2020 election.
In April, Raffensperger declared in a press release that, with the exception of three small counties, all Georgia absentee ballot transfer documents were accounted for.
On June 14, the same day that The Star News reported that a Fulton County election official admitted that 385 chain of custody documents for 18,901 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election were missing, The Washington Examiner reported that Raffensperger announced that those new revelations about the state’s largest county will be investigated thoroughly as with the other counties that failed to follow Georgia rules and regulations regarding drop boxes.
Most recently and also following a report by The Star News, Raffensperger revealed to CNN’s Burnett the investigation into the handling by DeKalb County – Georgia’s fourth largest county as of the 2020 census figures – of absentee ballots via drop box during the November 2020 election.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Georgia Star News and The Tennessee Star.