Nearly half a year after the 2020 Election, and four months after the original inquiry, Fulton County has failed to fulfill the Open Records Request made by The Georgia Star News to produce complete copies of all ballot transfer forms documenting the chain of custody in the transfer of absentee vote by mail ballots deposited in drop boxes to county registrars during the November 2020 election, as required by the Emergency Election Code Rule adopted by the Georgia State Election Board in July 2020.
On January 22, Fulton County Officials responded to the Open Records request made by The Star News with two PDF files. As previously reported, of those two files – one with a label that ended with BX-1, and another with a label that ended with BX-3 – showed ballot transfer form records for 36,635 absentee votes by mail ballots deposited in drop boxes.
That amount is significantly less than what was expected for Fulton County, given that The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that 145,000 absentee votes by mail ballots were cast in Fulton County in the November 3, 2020 general election out of more than 524,000 votes cast.
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 while 46 percent said they used drop boxes.
Therefore, the expectation was that Fulton County would have about 67,000 absentee vote by mail ballots deposited in drop boxes. Instead, records show only a little more than half that number.
The Star News filed another Open Records Request on April 8, that shared the preliminary finding:
After reviewing the documents you delivered January 22 in response to our Open Records Request (R007258-120120) for all the absentee ballot transfer forms for the November 03 2020 General Election, it appears there may be some documents missing.
The votes represented in the scanned absentee ballot transfer forms contained in the two .pdf files provided (ORR_7258-2020_DROP_BX1.pdf and ORR_7258-2020_DROP_BX3.pdf) add up to a little more than 36,000.
However, with our analysis, we were expecting the total to be more like 70,000.
Will you please review the production of these documents and either:
– confirm that the two files you delivered in January represent the totality of your records; or
– send any/all records pertaining to our request
The Georgia Star News
Fulton County officials sent an automatic response the same day. On April 15, the county sent a response that extended their time to fulfill the Open Records Request to Monday, April 19.
But on Monday, April 19, Fulton County stated:
Personnel mentioned all ballot transfer forms were submitted; however, they currently reviewing this large file to ensure all the drop box forms that are stored were submitting to the ORR previously mentioned.
This will required more time, anticipate the completion date to be 4/23/2020.
Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.
Registration & Elections
xc: Steven E. Rosenberg, Open Records Custodian
Shana Eatmon, Legal Assistant
Unique McCray, Administrative Coordinator II
As of press time, The Georgia Star News has received no additional word from Fulton County officials as to the status of the Open Records Request, nor the whereabouts of the ballot transfer forms accounting for an estimated 30,000 votes cast in the 2020 General Election.
State officials nonetheless certified Joe Biden won Georgia by 11,599 votes, or less than 0.25 percent of the 5 million votes cast – a margin of less that 40 percent of the unaccounted-for ballots in Fulton County alone.
According to the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia:
- The Open Records Act, O.C.G.A. 50-18-70 et. seq., requires a response to an open records request within three business days pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(b)(1)(A). There is no accommodation for an unavailable open records officer, so PAC recommends that there be more than one person in an agency who is capable of responding if the designated Open Records Officer is unavailable.
- If the response is to deny all or part of the requested records, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(d), the initial response must cite the exemption by the exact code section, subsection, and paragraph which allows the decision to not disclose the requested records. Failure to do so could result in a waiver of the exemption and a requirement of production of the records.
- An agency should always strive to be transparent and provide access to public records without undue delay. However, the Open Records Act does not require an agency to engage in the creation or customization of records just to be responsive. Therefore, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(j), an agency is not required to prepare a report, summary, or compilation of records or data that did not already exist at the time an open records request was made.
Georgia Election Code Emergency Rule 183-1-14-0.8-.14, promulgated by the Georgia State Election Board in July 2020, but not codified by the state legislature at the time as the Georgia Constitution requires, each of Georgia’s 159 counties 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.
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Tiffany Morgan is a reporter at The Georgia Star News and the Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]