Major Flaws in Georgia Secretary of State’s ‘Audit’ of Absentee Ballot Signature Matching in Cobb County

 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is not responding to questions about major flaws in his office’s “audit” of Cobb County absentee ballot envelope signatures counted in the November 3 presidential election, the results of which were announced in a press release last week.

Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, have certified that former Vice President Joe Biden secured a razor thin margin of victory of 11,779 votes in Georgia in the November 3 election, despite numerous lawsuits alleging significant irregularities in that election.

As a result of that certification, Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes were awarded to the Biden slate of Electors, all of whom cast their votes for Biden when the Electoral College met in 50 state capitals on December 14, giving Biden a 306 to 232 Electoral College majority.

A joint session of the newly elected Congress will convene in Washington, D.C. this coming Wednesday to decide whether to accept and count the results of the December 14 meeting of the Electoral College.  At least 30 members of the House of Representatives and one U.S Senator, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), have publicly announced that they will object to certifying those results. Consequently, both chambers will conduct at least a cursory debate about the legitimacy of the Electoral College votes presented for Joe Biden in several key battleground states, including Georgia.

Between Election Day November 3 and December 14, Secretary of State Raffensperger resisted calls for a statewide audit of the signatures on the 1.3 absentee ballots counted (out of 5 million total cast), despite a Georgia Star News report that a new absentee ballot signature verification process introduced by Raffensperger in an Official Election Bulletin issued as part of a March 2020 consent decree with the Georgia Democratic Party was both unlawful and enhanced the possibility of voter fraud.

But political pressures brought a response from Raffensperger on December 14.

“Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced a signature match audit in Cobb County and an additional statewide signature match audit. The Secretary of State’s Office will partner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct the Cobb County audit and with an accredited university for the statewide audit,” Secretary Raffensperger’s office said in a press release on December 14.

The press release appeared to telegraph that the conclusion of the “audit” was known before it was even begun.

“The audit of Cobb County’s signature match system is expected to take two weeks. However, it will not change the outcome of the November election,” the Secretary of State’s office asserted. (emphasis added).

Joe Biden’s statewide lead over Donald Trump of 11,779 votes is less than one percent–approximately nine-tenths of one percent (0.9 percent)–of the 1.3 million absentee ballots cast in the November 3 election. Slightly more than 11 percent of the 1.3 million absentee ballots counted in the November 3 election in Georgia– approximately 150,000–were cast in Cobb County.

The Secretary of State’s statement on December 14 that “the audit of Cobb County’s signature match system . . . will not change the outcome of the November election,” suggests that the Secretary of State knew with certainty that the “audit” would report potentially fraudulent absentee signatures in Cobb County were less than 1,350 (0.9 percent of 150,000 absentee ballots cast.)

On December 29 Secretary of State Raffensperger’s office issued a press release announcing the results of the Cobb County “audit”:

After a hand recount and a subsequent machine recount requested by the Trump campaign, a signature audit has again affirmed the original outcome of the November 2020 presidential race in Georgia. A signature match audit in Cobb County found “no fraudulent absentee ballots” and found that the Cobb County Elections Department had “a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures.”

“The Secretary of State’s Office partnered with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to conduct the audit. Of the 150,431 absentee ballots received by Cobb County elections officials during the November elections, the audit ‘reviewed 15,118 ABM ballot oath envelopes from randomly selected boxes,’ or around 10% of the total. The sample size was originally chosen to meet the 99% confidence threshold,” the statement continued.

ABM stands for “Absentee By Mail,” which is a ballot that was either mailed to election officials, or dropped in a dropbox before being delivered to election officials. Signatures on ABM ballot envelopes are verified to make sure they match the signature of the voter.

As Breitbart News reported in November,  Secretary of State Raffensperger does not know how many of the 1.3 million ABM “Absentee by Mail” ballots counted in the November 3 election were delivered by mail and how many were delivered via drop boxes.

A poll by McLaughlin and Associates of Georgia voters released in December indicated that about 600,000 of the 1.3 million ABM ballots were delivered by drop boxes and 700,000 were delivered by mail.

Secretary of State Raffensperger’s December 29 press release described the methodology used in the Cobb County signature match “audit”:

The absentee ballot envelopes for the audit were “pulled from 30 randomly selected boxes of the accepted ABM ballots and one box identified as accepted Electronic Ballot Delivery ABM ballots.” Each of the boxes that held the ballots were previously “secured in boxes by the Cobb County Elections Department” and were selected by a random number generator.

To conduct the audit, Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), from GBI and SOS were instructed to “analyze and compare the known signatures, markings, and identifying information of the elector as stored in databases with the signature, markings, and identifying information on the elector’s ABM ballot oath envelope.” They looked for “distinctive characteristics and unique qualities … individual attributes of the signature, mark, or other identifying information” to “make a judgment of the validity of the signature on each envelope based on the totality of the documents.”

The LEOs conducting the audit were split “into 18 two-member teams identified as ‘inspection teams’ and two three-member teams identified as ‘investigation teams.’” If the two members of the inspection team were split on whether a ballot signature was valid, a third impartial “referee” was brought in to break the tie. This only happened on six occasions.

In cases where additional review was necessary, if no signature was on the ballot, or if additional identification documents were not available, the absentee ballots were given to the investigation teams to track down more information.

The inspection teams submitted 396 envelopes to the investigation teams for comparison with additional documents or follow-up with the elector.” 386 of those were accepted as valid. The remaining ten were referred for additional investigation. “All ten electors were located, positively identified, and interviewed.”

The description of the Cobb County signature match “audit” methodology in the December 29 press release appears to be one of the first times the Secretary of State’s office has referred to “Electronic Ballot Delivery ABM ballots.” Electronic Ballot Delivery ABM ballots allow “remote voters such as military and NGO workers to receive election ballots electronically and later return their marked ballots through the postal system, email or fax,” according to Scytl, the voting technology company.

The description of the report issued by the Secretary of State’s office on December 29, however, does not appear to meet the nine criteria established for an election audit by the non-profit Election Audit, an organization whose members include Common Cause and Voter Verification, in a 2018 report which identified “Principles and Best Practices for Post-Election Audits.”:

1. EXAMINATION OF VOTER-VERIFIABLE PAPER BALLOTS: Audits require human examination of voter-marked paper ballots — the ground truth of the election. Voter-marked paper ballots may be marked by hand or by ballot marking device. Audits cannot rely on scanned images or machine interpretations of the ballots to accurately reflect voter intent.

2. TRANSPARENCY: Elections belong to the public. The public must be able to observe the audit and verify that it has been conducted correctly, without interfering with the process.

3. SEPARATION OF RESPONSIBILITIES: Neither the policy and regulation setting fo the audit, nor the authority to judge whether an audit has satisfied those regulations, shall be solely in the hands of any entity directly involved with the tabulation of the ballots or the examination of ballots during the audit.

4. BALLOT PROTECTION: All the ballots being tabulated and audited must be verifiably protected from loss, substitution, alteration or addition.

5. COMPREHENSIVENESS: All jurisdictions and all validly cast ballots, including absentee, mail-in and accepted provisional ballots, must be taken into account. No contest should be excluded a priori from auditing, although some contests may be prioritized.

6. APPROPRIATE STATISTICAL DESIGN: Audits should produce and scientifically assess evidence about tabulation accuracy while making efficient use of available resources. A risk-limiting audit (RLA) with a small risk limit assures a large chance that an incorrect outcome will be detected and corrected.

7. RESPONSIVENESS TO PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES: Audit processes must include a way to respond to circumstances that come to light affecting particular devices, ballots or contests.

8. BINDING ON OFFICIAL OUTCOMES: Audits, including any full hand counts that result, must be completed in time to change official outcomes if hand counts so indicate.

9. INVESTIGATING DISCREPANCIES AND PROMOTING CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT: The data gathered from post-election audits should be analyzed and used to continuously improve voting processes.

The Star News sent several questions to the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday requesting more details on the methodology used in the Cobb County signature matching “audit,” but received no response to these questions, six of which are included below, prior to publication:

Question 1: What is the name and title of the individual within the Georgia Secretary of State’s office responsible for the design and implementation of the absentee ballot envelope signature match audit of Cobb County?

Question 2: What are the professional qualifications of that individual to design and implement such an audit?

Question 3: How many total boxes of accepted ABM ballots and accepted Electronic Ballot Delivery ABM ballots were there in Cobb County containing the 150,341 absentee ballots received by Cobb County elections officials during the November elections were there in total?

Question 4:  Of the 30 randomly selected boxes of accepted ABM ballots, how many boxes were identified as arriving by mail, and how many were identified as arriving by drop box delivery?

Question 5: Who instructed “Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), from GBI and SOS. . . to ‘analyze and compare the known signatures, markings, and identifying information of the elector as stored in databases with the signature, markings, and identifying information on the elector’s ABM ballot oath envelope.'”

Question 6: Can you confirm that the instructions for signature verification given to the inspection teams and investigation teams were the same as those specified in the Official Election Bulletin issued by the Secretary of State’s office subsequent to the March 2020 consent decree?

These unanswered questions suggest several major flaws in the “audit.” These flaws correspond to most of the nine “Best Practices” listed above, meaning most of the failures identified by The Star News may have been avoided if the Secretary of State’s and Georgia Bureau of Investigation adhered to and performed an election audit based on the “Principles and Best Practices for Post-Election Audits.”

Most of the “audit’s” flaws identified by The Star News stem from an apparent failure to adhere to three of these main principles and best practices: transparency (Best Practice 2), separation of responsibilities (Best Practice 3), and appropriate statistical design (Best Practice 6). Some of these major flaws, identified below, involve more than one violation of “Best Practices.”

Transparency

  • Normally, according to O.C.G.A. § 21-2-408, a partisan poll watcher “named by a political party, political body, or candidate, “can observe the conduct of an election and the counting and recording of votes.” That measure exists to ensure that there is oversight by both political parties in the vote counting process. There was no outside oversight of the Cobb County audit.
  • The failure to identify the professional qualifications – or even the identities – of the individuals responsible for the design and implementation of the “audit” casts doubt on the transparency of the process and reliability of the results.
  • The report does not say whether the LEO’s – apparently members of the GBI, though that’s not specified either – had any specific training for handwriting and signature comparisons. It also does not explain why the state did not commission independent handwriting experts for the audit.
  • The identities of the “referees” in the investigation teams are not specified. It is unknown whether they were members of the Secretary of State’s office, the GBI, or another organization.
  • If two of the three members of the investigation team determined the ABM signatures matched, the votes were counted as legitimate. But if two of the three inspection team members agreed that the ABM signatures did not match, the voters were not counted as illegitimate. Instead, the voter was located and interviewed. The report provides no details about the nature of these interviews, or their outcomes.
  • Failure to identify the method of arrival – by mail or by drop box – of the “30 randomly selected boxes of accepted ABM ballots” casts further doubt on the transparency of the process and reliability of the results. Revealing that information – which The Georgia Star News believes is easily discernible based upon information received from DeKalb County, Georgia in response to an Open Records Request – in a press release announcing the results would have been standard operating procedure in any description of the methodology used in a standard accounting audit. This is particularly significant in light of the transparency and chain of custody issues with regards to drop box ballot transfer forms The Star News has reported on extensively since the November 3 election. In addition to violating the “best practice” of transparency, this flaw also seems to bring into question the comprehensiveness of the “audit” (see Best Practice 5).

Separation of Responsibilities

  • The Secretary of State’s office itself teamed up with the GBI agents to audit the ABM ballots. In other words, the people who conducted the audit are the same people who might find themselves under scrutiny if voter fraud was discovered.
  • Instructions for signature verification given to the inspection teams and the investigation teams appear to be the same as those specified in the Official Election Bulletin issued by the Secretary of State’s office after the March 2020 consent decree. Several lawsuits – some pending and some dismissed – allege that that decree was unlawful. A Georgia Star News report from December 16 also suggests the decree was unlawful. In addition to violating the “best practice” of the separation of responsibilities, this flaw also raises questions as to the comprehensiveness of the “audit” (see Best Practice 5).
  • The report does not explain why the Secretary of State’s office relied upon another state government agency – the GBI – to assist it in determining whether the state’s election results were accurate. State government officials auditing their own work is an obvious conflict of interest.

Appropriate Statistical Design

  • The makeup of the 30 “randomly selected boxes” of Cobb County ballots for the audit is important, because ABM ballots mailed directly to election officials could be more or less susceptible to fraud and mishandling than ABM ballots that were left in a drop box. If the 30 boxes of sample ballots were skewed heavily in one direction – for example, significantly more drop box ballots than mail-in ballots – it is plausible that the results of the entire audit could be skewed. In addition to violating the “best practice” of appropriate statistical design, this flaw may also bring into question the comprehensiveness of the “audit” (see Best Practice 5).
  • On 396 occasions during the audit, inspection teams decided that ABM signatures did not match. Of those 396 ABM ballots, 386 were accepted as legitimate votes after being sent to the investigation team for further evaluation.

Finally, the “audit” in Cobb County did not identify any meaningful “failure or flaw,” nor did it seem interested in providing any information to the public regarding its methodology could serve as template for future audits. Rather than viewing the audit as “necessary,” as Verified Voting does, the Secretary of State appeared to view the “audit” as a burdensome challenge to its authority.

The Georgia Star News detailed at great length the issues with chain of custody records of ABM ballots from drop boxes in Cobb County in a December 11 report, titled “Ballot Transfer Forms Show 78 Percent of 89,000 Absentee Ballots from Drop Boxes in Cobb County, Georgia Were Not Transported to Registrar ‘Immediately’ As Election Code Rule Requires.”

State Election Board Emergency Rule 183-1-14-0.8-.14 relative to securing absentee ballot drop boxes was adopted by the State Election Board at the July 1, 2020, meeting.

In addition to other prescriptive requirements for securing the absentee ballot drop boxes, which were placed at 16 locations throughout Cobb County, the rule also addresses the collection and transport of the ballots from each drop box location to the custody of the registrar.

“The ballots from the drop box shall be immediately transported to the county registrar and processed and stored in the same manner as absentee ballots returned by mail are processed and stored,” the rule mandates.

As previously reported, the total time between the collection of absentee ballots from a drop box and transfer to the registrar took as long as 7 hours and 15 minutes, when documented as actually transferred on the same day.

More notably, there were at least 6 separate instances involving a total of more than 1,800 ballots that ballots were not officially transferred to the registrar until the next day.  There was also one collection of 227 drop box absentee ballots was transferred 2 days later and another collection of 274 ballots was transferred three days later to the registrar.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Times last month, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that due to these widespread and credible reports of election irregularities, he will not accept the legitimacy of a Biden presidency:

Officials in virtually every swing state broke their states’ own laws to send out millions of ballots or ballot applications to every registered voter. It was all clearly documented in the Texas lawsuit, which was declined by the U.S. Supreme Court based on Texas’ procedural standing — not the merits of the case. That’s the election.

In addition, it’s clear that virtually every swing state essentially suspended normal requirements for verifying absentee ballots. . .

Given this environment, I have no interest in legitimizing the father of a son who Chinese Communist Party members boast about buying. Nor do I have any interest in pretending that the current result is legitimate or honorable. It is simply the final stroke of a four-year establishment-media power grab. It has been perpetrated by people who have broken the law, cheated the country of information, and smeared those of us who believe in America over China, history over revisionism, and the liberal ideal of free expression over cancel culture.

Recent polls indicate that a plurality of Americans agree with Gingrich and believe the certified outcomes in several battleground states where Joe Biden secured narrow electoral margins – including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – were neither free, fair, nor lawful.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Georgia Star News and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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2 Thoughts to “Major Flaws in Georgia Secretary of State’s ‘Audit’ of Absentee Ballot Signature Matching in Cobb County”

  1. […] the bill moves Georgia away from “no-excuse” absentee voting, which caused headaches during the 2020 election cycle. That rule was made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and […]

  2. dan

    Excellent investigative journalism. Maybe the AJC should learn something. What about Mr Sterling quitting his governemnt position making $114K and then negotiating a $200K salary working the same position?

    Someone please tell me where I can sigh the recall petition for Kemp, Duncan, & SOS. They knowinly are allowing 2 fraudulent elections. Hopefully someone is also starting recalls on Ralston and Dugan too.

    After seeing Kemp speaking about “people hiding behind keyboards” I called and requessted a meeting about voter fraud. No response yet.

    One thing their arrogance cant Trump is WE THE PEOPLE.

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