With the January 5 run-off election for two U.S. Senate seats underway and election practices in Georgia for the November 3 presidential election remaining under intense scrutiny, DeKalb County has failed to produce the drop box absentee ballot transfer forms that are required under a State Election Board emergency rule.
Absentee ballot transfer forms are a critical piece in the chain of custody for votes deposited into the approximately 300 drop boxes deployed throughout the state of Georgia for the November election. DeKalb County, with its 34 drop box locations, accounted for more than 10 percent of Georgia’s absentee ballot drop boxes.
DeKalb County received a $4.8 million grant from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) “Safe Election” project for the November election and is slated to receive another $4.6 million, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday, as the January run-off is already underway.
Those funds were used for a number of election procedures in the county, including absentee ballot processing, counting, and collection of absentee ballots from drop boxes.
All told, Facebook founder and CEO Zuckerberg and his wife funded the CTCL “Safe Elections” project with $350 million.
Without the required approval from Georgia’s legislature, The Georgia Star News reported, the State Election Board established Rule 183-1-14-0.8-.14 “Secure Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes” at their July 1, 2020, meeting,
The Board’s Rule provides a number of very prescriptive details regarding the drop boxes as well as how the absentee ballots deposited there are to be handled, which includes among other things that the two-person drop box ballot collection team must:
- Complete and sign a ballot transfer form upon removing the ballots from the drop box, which shall include the date, time, location and number of ballots
- Immediately transport those ballots to the county registrar, where they will be processed and stored in the same manner as absentee ballots returned by mail are processed and stored
Upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team, the county registrar or a designee thereof shall sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team.
As The Star News reported on Monday:
With Georgia’s U.S. runoff election just three weeks from now, there are still no publicly available chain of custody documents 465,000 drop box absentee ballots counted six weeks ago in the state’s November 3 general election.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certified that Democrat Joe Biden received slightly less than 12,000 more votes than Donald Trump in that election. As a result of that certification, Biden received all 16 votes cast by Democrat electors when the Electoral College convened in the 50 state capitals on Monday.
In the five days since The Georgia Star News reported that no chain of custody documents were publicly available for 500,000 drop box absentee ballots counted in the November 3 general election, the 159 counties in the state have made little progress in narrowing that statewide drop box absentee ballot chain of custody gap, and the Secretary of State has shown no interest in providing any assistance in narrowing that gap. . .
From December 1 to December 13, The Star News sent Open Records Requests for ballot transfer forms to all of Georgia’s 159 counties.
- 22 counties have responded with records of the ballot transfer forms.
- 25 counties – Appling, Atkinson, Burke, Candler, Charlton, Chattooga, Dade, Effingham, Emanual, Glascock, Haralson, Heard, Jenkins, Macon, Meriwether, Miller, Randolph, Stewart, Talliaferro, Treutlen, Twiggs, Warren, Webster, Wilcox and Wilkinson – responded and said they do not have any drop box locations.
- 3 counties–Fulton, Gwinnett, and DeKalb–have responded by saying they don’t know if they have documents responsive to the Open Records Request, but will provide an answer to that question at some time in the near future. In the case of Fulton County, that time in the near future could be as late as January 19, 2021.
- 109 counties have not responded to the request.
With 22 counties out of 159 in the state responding to The Star News Open Records Requests, chain of custody documents are now publicly available for just 134,471 of the 600,000 absentee ballots placed in drop boxes during the November 3, election, a mere 22 percent. A total of 78 percent of these absentee ballots, or 465,529, have no publicly available chain of custody documents.
On December 1, The Star News filed an open records request to DeKalb County, among other Georgia counties, for “all ballot transfer forms” from the November 3 general election.
The Star News reported that the initial response from DeKalb County came on December 4 from Assistant County Attorney Dexter Q. Bond, Jr. who stated “it has not yet been determined if responsive records to your request exist.”
DeKalb County’s Department of Voting, Registration and Elections expected to make the determination if the chain of custody records exist within 30 business days, advised Bond.
Eleven days later, on December 15, Bond sent an email to The Star News as a supplement to his December 4 email and attached records provided by DeKalb County’s Department of Voting, Registration and Elections that Bond described as being “responsive to your request.”
The PDF attached to Bond’s supplemental email, titled “12.15.Chain of Custody Forms-General Election 11.03.2020,” unlike the PDF documents provided to The Star News by the 22 counties that complied with our information request for ballot transfer forms from the November 3 election, contained none of the information required on those ballot transfer forms. Specifically, DeKalb County failed to a provide a chain of custody for the transport of absentee ballots from any of the 34 drop boxes used prior to the November 3 election to the registrar or designee at the county office.
You can see that PDF here:
The PDF was only 9 pages, while DeKalb County’s “Official and Complete” Election Summary Report for the November 3, 2020, general election for “all contests, all districts, all tabulators, all counting groups dated November 19 showed that there were 129,036 ballots – nearly 35 percent of the 373,439 total – cast absentee by mail.
The Summary, however, does not distinguish between absentee ballots cast by mail or drop box, even though Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office told Breitbart News that it did not know how many of the 1.3 million absentee ballots cast statewide in the November 3 general election were delivered by mail versus drop box, but the counties should know.
What DeKalb County provided to document a portion of the chain of custody for absentee ballots is titled “Early Processing Transfer of Absentee Ballots” for the November 3, 2020, election.
The form has two sections to it, with one relating to the “pre-tabulation area” and the other for the “tabulation area,” and appears to have no relevance to the collection of absentee ballots from the 34 drop boxes and transfer to the registrar.
Analysis of the documents that were provided by DeKalb County’s Department of Voting, Registration and Elections reveals a number of additional issues:
- 4 of the 9 forms were dated after election day, November 3
- In one case, a person signing as a member of the two-person “surrender team” also signed as a member of the two-person “acceptance team”
- In two instances, only one person signed on behalf of the two-person “surrender team”
- In one instance, only one person signed on behalf of the two-person “acceptance team”
- In three cases, the time was not documented by the pre-tabulation area “surrender team”
- There were two instances when the time was not documented by the tabulation area “acceptance team”
- There were two instances when the box was not checked to indicate that there was a match in the seal number
- Two of the transfers were documented on plain paper, versus the standardized form
But, most notably and importantly, none of the 9 forms documented the number of ballots transferred.
Comparatively and to the credit of the Director of Registration and Elections in that county, Cobb County responded to The Star News Open Record Request by providing documentation of over 460 ballots transfers on 253 forms contained in five separate files.
Analysis of Cobb County documentation revealed that there were a number of issues with drop box absentee ballot transfers, including violating the State Board of Election Rule relative to absentee ballots being “immediately transported” from drop boxes to the county registrar and 78 percent of the 89,000 absentee ballots taking more than one hour to be transferred from drop boxes to the registrar, Star News reported.
However, Cobb County at least sought to follow the State Board of Election Rule by employing a form that complied with the specifics of the Rule about documenting the transfer of absentee ballots from drop boxes to the registrar.
It remains unclear whether DeKalb County’s Department of Voting, Registration and Elections and the Assistant County Attorney did not understand the open records request for “all ballot transfer forms for the November 03 election” – although Star News was not asked for any clarification of the request – or if the drop box absentee ballot transfer forms don’t exist for DeKalb County.