A comparison of chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election made available separately by Georgia Public Broadcasting News (GPB News) and the Georgia secretary of state revealed that GPB News received documentation for 4,800 more dropbox absentee ballots from Fulton County than Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
The number of absentee ballots documented in the chain of custody documents GPB News has versus those the secretary of state has represented six percent of the total 79,460 Fulton County indicated were deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election.
GPB News first made the drop box absentee ballot transfer forms available via a shared Google Drive named “Fulton Ballot Transfer Forms – Google Drive,” the link for which was included in a June 23 story by Stephen Fowler, “Here’s A Look At Fulton County’s Absentee Drop Box Use.”
The documents were reportedly obtained from Fulton County after The Georgia Star News’ story “Fulton County Election Official Admits Chain of Custody Documents Missing for 2020 Absentee Ballots Deposited in Drop Boxes” was published on June 14. The stunning admission by the Fulton County election official was in reference to 385 of 1,565 chains of custody documents representing 18,901 absentee ballots that hadn’t been provided to The Star News six months after the initial open records request and several subsequent follow-up requests.
GPB News’ Fowler reported that he asked the county the very same day about the forms The Star News hadn’t received and “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.”
The following week, GPB News made the documents available to the public via a link to the Google Drive.
On July 1, The Star News initiated an open records request with the secretary of state’s office for the chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes throughout the state during the November 2020 election. Those documents were made available via a password-protected cloud drive on August 30.
The first observation related to the comparison of the Fulton County files is that the source was likely the same, given that the naming conventions of the files were exactly the same between the GPB News and Secretary of State files.
For example, some files were named using all caps, where others were named in typical initial caps such as SEPT29 BallotTransfer versus Sept29 BallotTransfer. This difference in file names appears to distinguish whether the transfer forms were labeled for the September 29, 2020, “Special Election” for the successor to the late civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis or the November 3, 2020, “General Election,” respectively.
In all cases, both GPB News and the secretary of state used the same capitalization format for the file names.
Additionally, all sheets contained within the GPB News and secretary of state files appeared in exactly the same order, which wasn’t consistently the case with the files The Star News received directly from Fulton County.
A side-by-side comparison of printed copies of all of the documents made available by GPB News and the secretary of state revealed that every page within the documents was identical including the format of the title pages inserted at each date change, which, again, wasn’t consistently the case with the files The Star News received directly from Fulton County.
GPB News did, however, have numerous chain of custody documents representing thousands more absentee ballots than the Secretary of State.
Beginning with September 24, 2020, the earliest date for which chain of custody documents were provided, GPB News had 12 additional files which contained 48 additional forms representing 4,818 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes.
However, the early voting period for the November 3, 2020, presidential election overlapped that of the congressional special election.
Adjusting for 7 forms representing 12 ballots labeled as the September 29, 2020, special election, GPB News still had 40 forms representing 4,806 absentee ballots more than the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
According to a Fulton County spreadsheet, “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily County – November 3, 2020,” that documented the absentee ballots and applications collected from all 37 drop boxes for the period September 24 to November 3, 2020, there was a total of 79,460 absentee ballots collected in that time period.
The number of ballots that the secretary of state does not have chain of custody documents for as compared to GPB News represents 6 percent of Fulton County’s documented total of absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes.
Raffensperger certified Joe Biden as the victor of Georgia with its 16 Electoral College votes by a margin of 11,779 votes – less than 0.25 percent of the 5 million votes cast in the state during the November 3, 2020 presidential election. According to the Georgia secretary of state’s office, 1.3 million of those votes were cast by absentee ballot.
The Star News evaluation of the chain of custody documentation comparison continues and additional reports on the findings are forthcoming.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Georgia Star News and The Tennessee Star.
Photo “Georgia Public Broadcasting” by Daniel Mayer CC BY-SA 3.0.