43,000 Absentee Ballot Votes Counted in DeKalb County, Georgia 2020 Election Violated Chain of Custody Rule
August 30, 2021 | Laura Baigert
43,907 of the 61,731 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes in the November 2020 presidential election in DeKalb County, Georgia - 72 percent - were counted in official tallies certified by the county and the state, despite violating chain of custody requirements set forward in Georgia Emergency Rule 183-1-14-1.8-.14 promulgated by the Georgia State Election Board at its July 1, 2020, meeting.
That rule states absentee ballots placed in drop boxes, "shall be immediately transported to the county registrar" by the two person collection team, which is required to sign a ballot transfer form indicating the number of ballots picked up, the time the ballots were picked up, and the location of the drop box, and that, "The county registrar or a designee thereof shall sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team."
The Georgia Star News obtained 725 absentee ballot drop box transfer forms used in the November 2020 election in DeKalb County to document the chain of custody of the 61,731 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes from the DeKalb County law department in response to an open records request.
Those 725 absentee ballot drop box transfer forms can be viewed here.
Of the 61,731 absentee ballots DeKalb County recorded as being deposited into drop boxes during the November 2020 election, 46 percent - or 28,194 of the absentee ballots - were not documented as being received by the elections registrar or the director's designee until the day after they were collected from the drop box.
The range in which absentee ballots were collected from drop boxes in DeKalb County and documented as received by the registrar the next day was between 13 and 22 hours, or nearly a full day later.
For another 26 percent, representing 15,713 absentee ballots collected from drop boxes during the November 2020 election, there was no receipt time recorded at all by the elections office, as is required by the July 2020 emergency election code rule.
Records for seven full days of the 29-day election period – nearly one quarter – including October 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24 and November 1, fall into this category.
All told, 43,907 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes in DeKalb County (28,194 absentee ballots whose chain of custody was accounted for on ballot transfer forms that were signed as received by the registrar's designee one day after election workers removed them from drop boxes plus 15,713 absentee ballots whose chain of custody was accounted for on ballot transfer forms for with there was no registrar’s designee signature for time or date of receipt) were counted in the certified results of the November 3, 2020 election despite being delivered to the registrar's office in clear violation of the chain of custody documentation of the Georgia State Election Board's July 2020 rule.
Another 24 percent - 14,925 absentee ballots collected from drop boxes - were documented as received by the elections official more than an hour after being collected by a two-person collection team, but on the same calendar day.
Arguably, these additional 14,925 absentee ballots could also be considered in violation of the election code rule that requires absentee ballots placed in drop boxes "shall be immediately transported to the county registrar."
Less than 5 percent of the absentee ballots collected from drop boxes during the November 2020 election were recorded as being received by the elections official in an hour or less.
On November 20, 2020, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, certified Joe Biden as the winner of the state’s 16 electoral college votes over former President Donald Trump by a margin of 11,779 votes out of 5 million cast in the November 3, 2020 election.
News that in DeKalb County - just one of the state's 159 counties - the number of absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes in the November 2020 election that were in violation of the state's emergency rule for chain of custody documentation exceeds by more than three times Biden's certified margin of statewide victory (43,907 votes compared to 11,779 votes) calls into question the legitimacy of that November 20, 2020 statewide certification by Secretary of State Raffensperger.
Similar to DeKalb, issues surrounding the chain of custody of absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes in Cobb County and Fulton County have been reported by The Star News.
After Fulton County did not provide the chain of custody documents for 18,901 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes, an election official there admitted that the records were missing. Additionally, 85 percent of the drop box absentee ballots were not "immediately transported" and 5 percent were recorded as being delivered before they were picked up from the drop boxes.
A review of Cobb County's chain of custody documents revealed that 6 collections totaling more than 1,800 ballots were transferred one day later, one collection of 227 ballots was transferred 2 days later and one collection of 274 ballots was transferred 3 days later, in addition to a number of other irregularities.
However, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger declared in an April press release that 120 of 123 Georgia counties that utilized drop boxes during the November 2020 election "filled out and retained ballot transfer forms in accordance with Georgia rules."
The other three small counties – Coffee, Grady and Taylor – accounting for 0.37 percent of the absentee ballots in the November 2020 election, Raffensperger said at the time, were referred for investigation after failing to do their absentee ballot transfer forms in accordance with Georgia Rules and Regulations.
Two months later, The Star News reported in June that eight months after the November 2020 election and seven months after The Star News first requested chain of custody documents from officials in all 159 counties in Georgia as well as Secretary of State Raffensperger, "Georgia County Officials Have Not Produced Chain of Custody Records for 316,000 Absentee Vote by Mail Ballots Deposited in Drop Boxes in 2020 Election."
While more than two dozen counties have failed to comply with The Star News public records request for absentee ballot chain of custody document for the 2020 election, on Friday – more than nine months after the election and more than eight months after receiving the initial Star News public records request, the Secretary of State’s office forwarded files for 129 counties which it says contain the requested chain of custody documentation for each of those counties.
The Star News has just begun to analyze those documents.
DeKalb County, which is Georgia's fourth most populous as of the 2020 census, has its county seat in Decatur and was not without issues during the November 2020 election.
On November 20, DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections officials fired a manager because the former employee "failed to follow our established protocols and blatantly disregarded the required processes we utilize to account for and record all legal and verified ballots."
In October 2020, one month before the November 3, 2020 election, Chairman of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, John Jackson, called for the county's Election Board Chairman Sam Tillman and Elections Director Erica Hamilton to resign, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Hamilton, as the director of Voter Registration and Elections for DeKalb County, is responsible for administering and supervising the conduct of elections and voter registration.
The call for her resignation was apparently due to long-standing questions about Hamilton’s ability to efficiently carry out elections.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Georgia Star News, The Tennessee Star, The Ohio Star and The Arizona Sun Times.