- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2021

Georgia election officials are offering verified explanations for what they say is innocent behavior — and not misconduct — by ballot counters as viewed on surveillance camera video on Election Day.

Video snippets from the hectic ballot-counting room at the State Farm Arena for Democrat-rich Fulton County have sparked conservatives’ allegations of vote tampering to deliver defeat to President Trump and an 11,779-vote victory to President-elect Joseph R. Biden.

Among the most recently aired clips on some news websites show a female poll worker allegedly inserting ballots multiple times through a Dominion Voting Systems high-speed scanner. It produces the official count in a print-out. One news organization named the woman and her workmate daughter as doing something unethical.

The Washington Times viewed the tape and consulted with an official of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. Under state law, the secretary of state runs Georgia’s elections. The Times also reviewed a Dec. 5 sworn affidavit by Frances Watson, the secretary of state chief investigator.

“There are so many things wrong about that news report,” said the elections official, who asked not to be named.

The bottom line, the source said, based on an internal investigation: Elections officials conducted a statewide bipartisan hand count of every ballot. If a machine had been fed the same ballot multiple times, the scanner’s count would not have matched the hand count, signaling some type of human or mechanical failure. But the recount of each individual paper ballot did confirm the machine numbers, the official said, meaning conspiracy claims are unfounded.

In addition, “tally sheets,” which are compiled as ballot counting proceeds, also match the machine numbers.

“That’s the kind of other backstop to it,” the official told The Times. “All the numbers really do have to check out.”

The counting room at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena was under constant video surveillance, providing secretary of state investigators 15 hours of tape to analyze.

Georgia elections have become ground zero in American politics, as twin Senate runoff contest are now being held, with the final Election Day on Jan. 5.

Mr. Trump and his legal team have alleged fraud in the Nov. 3 voting. They claim there was doubling-voting, underage voters and other illegal methods to deliver victory to Mr. Biden in a normally red state that is changing demographically in the Democratic Party’s direction.

Those ballot integrity issues are separate from how the machine count was conducted. To prove a massive illegal vote to change the election, Trump supporters would have to scour individuals ballots, signatures, registration rolls, addresses, ages, citizenship — a task that would likely take months, well into 2021.

Like the national vote, Georgia saw a huge increase in mailed or dropped-off paper ballots due to COVID-19 fears and a big Democratic Party vote drive. Democrats have urged mail voting and worked to remove or reduce integrity requirements, such as signature match, to reduce rejection rates.

Mr. Raffensperger said on Facebook that the rejection rate for flawed signatures in 2018 — 0.15% for 284,393 mailed ballots — was the exact percentage in the 2020 general election, which had 1.322 million mailed ballots.

Last year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) conducted training for elections officials on how to eyeball ballots, as opposed to a machine verification, to spot signature discrepancies. Mr. Raffensperger, an elected Republican, has asked the University of Georgia to participate in a sample signature audit to determine if fraudulent signatures happened in 2020.

There is a second counting room video clip that has spawned conspiracy theories.

The story goes like this: Counting room personnel at around 10 p.m. told the news media and partisan observers they were done for the day and would resume on Wednesday. The monitors left. The employees then are seen pulling “suitcases” full of ballots out from under tables and resuming the count. The sequence of events fed conspiracy theories that the employees misled the monitors so they could count in private.

‘Victory for secure elections’

The secretary of state investigations showed this: The employees did in fact decide to end counting and informed the monitors, who left. When the secretary of state’s office found out, it notified Fulton County officials that the counting must continue until finished.

“We called Fulton County: ‘What’s the deal? Why are you guys going home?’” the state official told The Times.

The counting room poll manger was called and notified. On the video, he is seen answering the phone. At that point, they pulled chain-of-custody, bar-coded ballot containers from under tables and finished their task, which took until about 1:30 a.m.

The Watson affidavit states: “Around 10 p.m., with the room full of people, including official monitors and the media, video shows ballots that had already been opened but not counted placed in the boxes, sealed up, stored under the table. This was done because employees thought that they were done for the night and were closing up and ready to leave. When the counting continued later in the night, those boxes were opened so that the ballots inside could then be counted.”

A third conspiracy theory is that a water pipe leaked late at night, allowing counters to expel monitors.

The secretary of state probe found that the leak came from a urinal. Water from the floor above fell onto some voting equipment. The leak happened early in the morning, not at night, and, the Watson affidavit said, “did not affect the counting of votes by Fulton County later that evening.”

Much of Republican criticism of Mr. Raffensperger centers on court settlements with Democratic Party groups that want reduced ballot rejection rates.

The two sides reached a settlement that requires the ballot counter to obtain a “second opinion” of two other people on whether the on-file signature matches the ballot’s. The agreement also broadens the list of on-file signatures for comparisons.

A March court settlement said officials must promptly notify rejected ballot voters to give time to “cure” it of any flaws. No big change here. Georgia law already included a similar requirement.

Mr. Raffensperger can point to a study by the independent MITRE Corp.’s National Election Security Lab. It concluded there was no “ballot harvesting” — a process whereby non-government third parties collect and deliver ballots — in 2020. Georgia made the practice illegal in 2019 legislation.

“This report by MITRE is nothing less than a resounding victory for secure elections and voter integrity in Georgia,” Mr. Raffensperger said on Dec. 21. “Ballot harvesting can be a major source of voter fraud and can undermine the integrity of the vote. We made stopping ballot harvesting a top priority and this report shows that we have succeeded in effectively eliminating the practice in Georgia.”

In December, Trump lawyers filed a lawsuit in Fulton County alleging that thousands of votes were cast illegally by felons, nonresidents, underage registrars, people who listed post office box addresses and other unqualified people. The numbers came from two analysts who scoured publicly available data.

The state rejects the analysis.

Last week, secretary of state spokesman Ari Schaffer posted a rebuttal on Facebook.

Of the claim of 66, 247 underage voters, state investigators found zero.

Of the claim that 2,423 votes by unregistered voters, the state found zero.

Of the claim 2,056 felons voted, the state found possible evidence of 74.

Mr. Raffensperger now is urging the legislature to end “no excuse” absentee voting promoted during the pandemic. He says it no longer makes sense given there are three weeks of in-person voting before the final Election Day.

About one-quarter of Georgia’s 5 million votes were by mailed ballots. Of Biden voters, 34% sent absentee ballots; Trump, 18%.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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