Georgia Secretary of State Approved Absentee Ballot Boxes but Security Concerns Remain over Transport of Votes

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Monday, N
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, and the Georgia State Election Board authorized the use of 300 absentee ballot drop boxes for the November 3, 2020, general election, beginning 49 days before the election, in a July 2020 election code rule.

Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, said that a number of election security concerns were not addressed in Georgia’s election code rule regarding the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in Georgia and elsewhere.

“Who were the vendors that collected the ballots from the drop boxes? Where are the logs of their receipt by the vendor at the drop box and subsequent delivery to the election board? How do we know that these ballots were not tampered with, or that a number of them were not discarded along the way from the drop box to the election board?” Kline said to Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.

Last week, the Amistad Project filed a lawsuit “contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, citing expert opinion that well over 100,000 illegal votes were improperly counted, while tens of thousands of legal votes were not counted.”

Breitbart News contacted the Georgia Secretary of State’s office for a response to Kline’s criticisms. Specifically, Breitbart News asked if the secretary of state’s office keeps copies of the ballot transfer forms required under the election code rule any time absentee ballots are transferred from the ballot drop box to the election offices and if those forms have been reviewed and monitored for time of delivery and chain of custody. A spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office said each county kept those forms.

Breitbart News has contacted election officials in several counties in Georgia to confirm whether they are maintaining all the ballot transfer forms used during the November 3 election and has not yet received a response from any of the counties contacted.

Many of these absentee ballot drop boxes were paid for by a private party — the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), which made the placement of these drop boxes a requirement for local counties that received grants and also funded additional election workers who transported ballots from the drop boxes to local election offices.

As Breitbart News reported this month, the CTCL provided more than $15 million in grants to three metropolitan Atlanta counties that accounted for more than 76 percent of Joe Biden’s 2020 net margin gain over Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2020:

Most of Joe Biden’s 221,751 vote margin gain in Georgia, compared to Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016, came from three metropolitan Atlanta counties that received more than $15 million from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) “safe elections” project.

Those three counties — Cobb, Fulton, and Gwinnett — accounted for 168,703 of Biden’s 221,751 vote margin gain, or 76 percent.

In 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Georgia by 211,141 votes, 2,089,104 to 1,877,963, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s election website.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting as of 2:00 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, November 9, Democratic nominee Joe Biden was leading Donald Trump by 10,610 votes, 2,466,540 to 2,455,930, according to Real Clear Politics.

This currently represents a 221,751 vote gain in margin of votes cast for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020 compared to the margin of votes cast for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In the 49 days preceding the 2020 November general election, Fulton County (area: 534 square miles) had 37 absentee ballot drop boxes (one for every 14.4 square miles), Gwinnett County (area: 437 square miles) had 24 absentee ballot drop boxes (one for every 18.2 square miles), and Cobb County (area: 345 square miles) had ten drop boxes (one for every 34.5 square miles).

The state of Georgia has an area of 59,425 square miles spread over 159 counties, with 1,316 square miles of that in Fulton, Gwinnett, and Cobb Counties, and 58,109 square miles in the 156 other counties, where 229 absentee ballot drop boxes were located (one for every 253.7 square miles).

Election Code rule 183-1-14-0.8-.14, adopted by the Georgia State Election Board in a special meeting called on July 1, 2020, specified that every absentee ballot drop box collection team “shall complete and sign a ballot transfer form upon removing the ballots from the drop box” but failed to proved adequate security procedures to monitor and provide for audit capabilities of those ballot transfer forms:

Prior to the second Monday before Election Day, the county registrars must arrange for collection of the ballots from each drop box at least once every 72 hours.

Beginning on the second Monday before Election Day and up until 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, the county registrars must arrange for collection of the ballots from each drop box location at least once every 24 hours. On Election Day, every drop box shall be closed and ballots collected at 7:00 p.m. Collection of ballots from a drop box must be made by a team of at least two people.

Any person collecting ballots from a drop box must have sworn an oath in the same form as the oath for poll officers set forth in O.C.G.A. § 21-2-95. The collection team shall complete and sign a ballot transfer form upon removing the ballots from the drop box, which shall include the date, time, location and number of ballots. After emptying the drop box on 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, the collection team shall close the drop box and indicate on the ballot transfer form that the drop box was emptied and closed. 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 county registrar or a designee thereof shall sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team. [emphasis added]

Authority: O.C.G.A. §§ 21-2-31, 21-2-386

Each of the 300 absentee ballot drop boxes should have a total of at least 22 separate ballot transfer forms, each dated — 14 submitted and signed at least every 72 hours between September 15 (49 days before the November 3 election) and eight submitted and signed each day between October 26 and November 3.

These completed ballot transfer forms are kept by the local election offices, where they are available for inspection by the secretary of state’s office, judges, or any resident of Georgia who submits a Georgia Open Records request. There is no indication that the secretary of state’s office has instructed its investigators to review the ballot transfer forms stored in local election offices.

O.C.G.A. 21-2-31 identifies ten specific duties of the State Election Board, most of which relate to the promulgation of election code rules “that are consistent with the law.”

O.C.G.A. 21-2-386 addresses, “Safekeeping, certification, and validation of absentee ballots; rejection of ballot; delivery of ballots to manager; duties of managers; precinct returns; notification of challenged elector,” but does not appear to authorize the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, nor does it include language that would authorize the secretary of state or the State Election Board to direct local election officials to use absentee ballot drop boxes.

Only eight states have statutes that specifically authorized the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. Georgia is not one of those states, as LawFare blog reported:

Only eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington state—have explicit language about ballot drop boxes written into their laws. However, many more states provide ballot drop boxes or otherwise permit counties and other election officials to place ballot drop boxes for voters to use. All told, 40 states (and Washington, D.C.) will have ballot drop boxes available in one or more locations in 2020, while just 10 states will not have drop boxes. Due to the coronavirus response, the use of ballot drop boxes during the 2020 general election will likely be the largest in American history.

Tennessee is one of the ten states that did not use ballot drop boxes in the 2020 general election. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett raised security concerns about the use of drop boxes in Congressional testimony in July, as the Associated Press reported:

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked Hargett why Tennessee doesn’t have drop boxes, since officials are concerned nationally about U.S. Postal Service delays with the huge influx of by-mail ballots across the country. Drop boxes are not among the several issues currently being targeted in lawsuits over Tennessee’s absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Frankly, it’s an anti-coercion methodology,” Hargett responded. “If you look at it, if someone knows you’ve got an absentee ballot and they can say, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to take that for you and drop that off for you,’ they can ask you what you filled that ballot out or they can not turn it in at all for you.”

Last week, “The Georgia State Election Board extended two emergency rules governing absentee-by-mail voting, continuing the use of secure drop boxes and now requiring counties to process absentee ballots starting the week before Election Day,” as Georgia Public Broadcasting reported:

In the Monday meeting, the five-member board, chaired by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, voted to extend the use of 24/7-monitored secure drop boxes through the Jan. 5 runoff. The rule was most recently approved this summer, but was set to expire late December.

The second rule continues to allow counties to begin processing absentee ballots two weeks before Election Day, but now requires them to start handling those ballots no later than the Monday before the Jan. 5 runoff.

“The number of absentee ballot requests that we’re seeing for the runoff is large as well, so if we want results at any time quickly, I think we’re going to need to do this,” general counsel Ryan Germany said. “The last week before the election, it becomes mandatory to do processing and scanning.”

Absentee ballot drop boxes were first used in Georgia during the state’s June 9 primary, authorized by the State Election Board in an April 2020 meeting, “as a way to help voters avoid human contact during the coronavirus pandemic,” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.

No Georgia statute authorizes the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, and there is no indication on the State Election Board website that the board passed an election rule as it is required to do by law for any election procedures that are authorized by Georgia law.

The link to transcribed minutes of the meetings of the State Election Board in 2020 does not currently work (as of Monday, November 30) so minutes of the April 2020 meeting are not available to the public, though meetings from 2019 and before are available to the public because those links do work.

The Zuckerberg-funded CTCL announced last week that it will provide funding for absentee ballot drop box funding for the critical January 5 U.S. Senate runoffs to any county in Georgia that applies.


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