With eleven days until Georgia’s U.S. runoff election, a large majority of the state’s counties have failed to produce chain of custody documents for some 460,000 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes that were counted in the state’s November 3 general election as requested by The Georgia Star News.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certified that Democrat Joe Biden edged out President Trump by a thin majority and as a result, Mr. Biden received all 16 votes cast by Democrat electors when the Electoral College convened in the 50 state capitals on Monday.
Of the roughly 5 million votes cast in the November 3 election, election officials report that more than 1.3 million were by absentee ballots. In the current tally, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential contest by 11,779 votes – or just 0.235 percent.
A poll of likely voters in Georgia conducted by John McLaughlin and Associates found that 26 percent of respondents said they voted absentee. When the pollster asked the absentee voters if they mailed or deposited their ballot in a drop box, 53 percent said they mailed their ballot, representing about 700,000 votes; and 46 percent – representing 600,000 votes – said they used drop boxes.
In the two weeks since The Georgia Star News first reported no chain of custody ballot transfer forms have been produced for the more than 500,000 of the 600,000 drop box absentee ballots cast, the 159 counties in the state have made little progress producing the documents. Furthermore, the Secretary of State has shown no interest in providing any assistance to require the counties fulfill the open record requests.
In order to account for the secure whereabouts for absentee ballots left in drop boxes across the state, the Georgia Election Code Emergency Rule approved by State Election Board on July 1, 2020, required that every county is responsible for documenting the transfer of every batch of absentee ballots picked up at drop boxes and delivered to the county election offices with ballot transfer forms. The forms are required to be signed and dated, with time of pick up by the collection team upon pick up, and then signed, dated, with time of delivery by the registrar or designee upon receipt and accepted.
From December 1 to December 13, The Star News sent open records requests for ballot transfer forms to all of Georgia’s 159 counties.
So far, 26 out of the 159 counties in Georgia responded to the requests and produced the chain of custody records. These documents account for 140,083 of the roughly 600,000 absentee ballots placed in drop boxes during the November 3 election. In other words, about three out of four absentee ballots left in drop boxes in counties across the state have no documentation verifying their chain of custody.
- 26 counties have responded with records of the ballot transfer forms.
- 26 counties – Appling, Atkinson, Burke, Candler, Charlton, Chattooga, Dade, Effingham, Emanual, Glascock, Haralson, Heard, Jenkins, Macon, Meriwether, Miller, Montgomery, 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.
- Worth County said, “nothing in this chapter shall require agencies to produce records in response to a request if such records did not exist at the time of the request.”
- Coffee County said they will process the request once the Election Supervisor recovers from illness.
- 102 counties have not responded to the request whatsoever.
The total number of absentee ballots left in drop boxes that have been accounted for by the ballot transfer forms from those 26 counties are:
- Bartow totals 4,909
- Butts totals 481
- Catoosa totals 532
- Cherokee totals 17,033
- Clarke totals 4,909
- Cobb totals 89,860
- Colquitt totals 571
- Cook totals 530
- Decatur totals 963
- Dougherty totals 3,793
- Gilmer total 513
- Lincoln totals 513
- Lowndes totals 3,266
- McDuffie totals 738
- Murray totals 162
- Oconee totals 3,016
- Oglethorpe totals 636
- Pierce totals 444
- Pike totals 495
- Rabun totals 1,163
- Schley totals 64
- Tattnall totals 282
- Telfair totals 401
- Towns totals 1,197
- Walton totals 3,198
- White totals 414
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Tiffany Morgan is a reporter at The Georgia Star News and the Star News Network. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org