The purpose of this story is to present the analysis that The Georgia Star News has conducted on the chain of custody documents provided by Fulton County for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the early voting and election-day period of September 29 through November 3, 2020.
The documents provided to The Star News have been part of an ongoing series of Open Records Requests made to Fulton County for the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms, which began more than six months ago.
In response to The Star News’ initial Open Records Request in December 2020, Fulton County officials provided in February 2021 two PDF files with labels ending in “BX1” and “BX3.”
The Star News’ initial review revealed that it appeared a file “BX2” was missing as well as the number of absentee ballots submitted via drop box falling far short of the estimates.
The transfer forms Fulton County provided addressed about 36,635 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes. The expectation, however, was that an estimated 67,000 absentee ballots were put in drop boxes.
This estimate was based on The Atlanta Journal Constitution report that 145,000 absentee ballots were cast in Fulton County during the November 3, 2020 election.
A poll of likely voters in Georgia conducted by John McLaughlin and Associates found that of the respondents that said they voted absentee, 46 percent of those voters said they used drop boxes.
These preliminary findings were shared with Fulton County on April 8, at which time The Star News filed another Open Records Request.
On May 3, Fulton County provided a thumb drive they said included all of the transfer forms, including a re-scan of the documents provided in January plus those that were missing at that time.
The volume of the information provided – “BX1” contained 221 pages, “BX3” contained 288 pages and the flash drive contained 30 separate files ranging in size from 12 to 48 pages – and the potential for duplication through the multiple sets of documents would make conducting any kind of analysis challenging.
Adding to the complexity, each page – more often than not – recorded information for two drop box collections.
The Star News took all of the data and converted it into a spreadsheet that could be analyzed for completeness and compliance against the requirements of State Election Board’s Emergency Rule 83-1-14-0.8-.14.
The compilation of all of the data received from Fulton County into a single spreadsheet can be viewed here.
An explanation of the spreadsheet can be read here:
The first two columns, A and B, indicate the name of the PDF file – “BX1” or “BX3” – received on January 22 and the page on which the transfer form appears, respectively.
The third and fourth columns, C and D, indicate Fulton County’s name of the PDF file received on May 3 – by date of the ballot collection – and the corresponding page on which the transfer form appears.
In cases where there is a file name in both the first and the third column, the transfer form was provided by Fulton County on both January 22 and May 3.
If only one column has a file name, the transfer form was provided by Fulton County on only January 22 or May 3, but not both dates.
Columns E through O log the information as recorded on the transfer forms. Each of the fields in these columns are requirements of the State Election Board Emergency Rule for “Secure Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes.”
Such required information includes:
- Drop box location
- Drop box collection date
- Drop box collection time
- Number of ballots collected from drop box
- Collection Team Member #1 Printed Name
- Collection Team Member #1 Signature (marked with an “x” if present on transfer form)
- Collection Team Member #2 Printed Name
- Collection Team Member #2 Signature (marked with an “x” if present on transfer form)
- Time of transfer to Registrar or Designee
- Registrar or Designee Ballots Received by Printed Name
- Registrar or Designee Ballots Received by Signature (marked with an “x” if present on transfer form)
The last three columns, P through R, reflect an area on the absentee ballot drop box transfer form that is intended to be initialed by the absentee ballot Courier 1 and 2 as well as the Supervisor to indicate that the drop box key was retrieved.
This comprehensive analysis required the review and entry of more than 21,000 pieces of data.
In addition, The Star News reviewed a spreadsheet prepared by Fulton County titled “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020.”
The Fulton County daily count spreadsheet documented the absentee ballots and applications collected from all 37 drop boxes for the period September 24 to November 3, 2020.
The Fulton County spreadsheet, “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020,” can be viewed here.
Across the top, the 37 absentee ballot drop box locations are listed.
Below each drop box location are two columns which log the number of absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications collected from the drop boxes on each of the dates listed in the far left column.
The Star News’ analysis included a comparison of the Fulton County data from their daily count spreadsheet against the transfer forms received and input into The Star News spreadsheet.
Anytime The Star News did not have receipt of the transfer forms that corresponded to the ballots that Fulton County said they had per their documentation on their daily count spreadsheet, The Star News highlighted the missing number of ballots in yellow.
Per this process and Fulton County’s own documentation, Fulton County has still failed to produce 385 ballot transfer forms. According to the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet, the missing transfer forms represent 18,901 absentee ballots placed into drop boxes.
Fulton County has made a stunning admission to The Star News that “a few forms are missing” and that “some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced,” reported here.
Remarkably, Fulton County election officials dispute the missing documentation for 19,000 absentee ballots, even though it is their documentation from which the number was derived.
There is an error in the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet that could account for the confusion on the part of the election officials.
The Fulton County daily count spreadsheet came up with a total of 79,460 absentee ballots collected from drop boxes.
However, The Star News analysis of the spreadsheet revealed the formula for the ballot total was not constructed in a sequential fashion working across the page, but was very random in nature.
As a result, the 2,396 drop box absentee ballots collected from the Auburn Avenue Research Library and 1,615 drop box absentee ballots collected from the North Training Center were counted twice.
This mathematical error in the formula caused Fulton County to overstate the absentee ballots collected from drop boxes by 4,011, making the actual total 75,449.
Comparing the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet to the actual transfer forms, numerous errors were detected. More than 200 times the spreadsheet outright inaccurately recorded the number of ballots or reversed the number of ballots between two dates.
The Star News will continue to work with Fulton County election officials in order to obtain the full chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star and The Georgia Star News.