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Gabriel Sterling a top Georgia elections official speaks on Nov. 30, 2020, during a news conference in Atlanta. (AP/Anderson) Gabriel Sterling a top Georgia elections official speaks on Nov. 30, 2020, during a news conference in Atlanta. (AP/Anderson)

Gabriel Sterling a top Georgia elections official speaks on Nov. 30, 2020, during a news conference in Atlanta. (AP/Anderson)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy December 4, 2020

No, Georgia election workers didn’t kick out observers and illegally count ‘suitcases’ of ballots

If Your Time is short

  • A video presented by Rudy Giuliani and promoted by the Trump campaign purports to show Georgia election workers illegally counting suitcases full of ballots after election observers had been told to leave. The video itself doesn’t prove this claim.

  • Georgia election officials, including Republican voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling, publicly disputed claims that the video shows fraudulent activity.

  • Officials said that there was never an instruction for observers to leave, and that there were no suitcases full of ballots. The bins in the video were standard ballot containers, and the footage shows what officials described as the normal tabulation process.

Georgia election officials disputed a video promoted by President Donald Trump’s campaign as evidence of election fraud, saying the footage shows nothing but "normal ballot processing."

The surveillance video was introduced as proof of illegal activity by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his team during a Dec. 3 hearing with Georgia state legislators. The Trump campaign then circulated One America News Network’s live coverage of the event online.

Social media posts sharing the video were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The posts claim the video footage shows election workers at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena telling election observers to leave, pulling suitcases filled with ballots from under a table, and illegally counting them with no observers present. "Smoking gun," one Facebook post said.

That interpretation is wrong, however. The footage doesn’t show any wrongdoing, said Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, in a Dec. 4 tweet.

"The 90 second video of election workers at State Farm arena, purporting to show fraud was watched in its entirety (hours) by @GaSecofState investigators," Sterling wrote, linking to a fact-check from Lead Stories. "Shows normal ballot processing."

Reporters for Lead Stories spoke with Sterling about the surveillance video. They also talked to Frances Watson, the Georgia secretary of state’s chief investigator, and an unidentified state election board monitor who was present in the room late on election night.

The ballots seen in the video were not in suitcases, the officials told Lead Stories. They were in standard ballot containers. And there was nothing illegal about the way they were processed. 

In reality, the ballots had been removed from their envelopes and processed while news media personnel and observers were still in the room. Nobody was ever told to leave, Watson told Lead Stories. But some observers exited after the election workers responsible for opening the envelopes and verifying the ballots had finished their job and started taking off for the night.

The observers were allowed to return at any time, Watson told Lead Stories. Lead Stories and Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that while the state’s law allows partisan observers to watch, it does not actually require that they be present for ballots to be counted.

That lines up with the sequence of events Sterling described in response to a Facebook post about the video. Here’s what he said:

"When the workers began packing up to go, there were two groups, the cutters and the counters. Cutters opened, stacked and prepared ballots for scanning. Scanners … well, they scanned. All of them heard a supervisor say we are finishing for the night, because the cutters had completed their work. The scanners heard they were ‘done’ and started packing up to leave. During that time the elections director called the absentee supervisor at State Farm to tell him the scanners needed to continue their work. So people had already started to leave or had left … cutters, media, monitors. But the video shows no new boxes of ballots brought out from a table, they were all there when the media and monitors were in the room. The video shows them getting back to work scanning. When the (state elections board) monitor arrives they continue to do the same thing they had been doing all night. When the (secretary of state) investigator got there they continued doing the same thing."

Sterling also addressed claims about the video in an interview on Newsmax and walked through the surveillance tape with a WSB-TV reporter.

Richard Barron, the elections director in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, also addressed the issue with the county’s elections officials. In a video published online by 11Alive, the NBC affiliate TV station in Atlanta, he described sending instructions for the scanners to keep going.

"No announcement was ever made to leave, for anyone to leave," Barron said. "Certain staff that were on the cutting stations, that were on the flattening stations, that were extracting from the inner envelopes, those staff left as work completed. I found out sometime, I think a little after 10:30, that they were going to cease operations, and I told them not to do that."

"It was normal processing that occurred there," said Barron, who added that the plastic bins shown in the video were "bins that they keep under their desks near the scanners."

Other reporters also disputed claims that the video showed illegal counting by election workers. Fulton County tweeted Dec. 4 that it was "aware of no credible reports of voter fraud." 

A spokesperson for OAN said the video shared by Trump’s campaign and supporters was taken from the network’s live coverage of Giuliani’s presentation at the hearing in Georgia. The source and presentation of the video was not originally from OAN, the spokesperson said.

The Georgia secretary of state’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Our ruling

Social media posts claim that video from Georgia shows suitcases filled with ballots pulled from under a table and illegally counted after election observers were told to leave. That’s wrong.

State officials have said there was no suitcase, no instruction to leave, and no illegal counting of ballots. The video does not prove that the bins shown contained fraudulent ballots, either.

We rate these Facebook posts False.

RELATED: Georgia election worker falsely accused of discarding ballot is in hiding, official says

Our Sources

Facebook and Instagram posts, Dec. 3, 2020

Team Trump on Twitter, Dec. 3, 2020

11Alive on YouTube, "Fulton County elections director addresses State Farm Arena surveillance video," Dec. 4, 2020

Georgia Public Broadcasting, "Fact Checking Rudy Giuliani's Grandiose Georgia Election Fraud Claim," Dec. 4, 2020

The Washington Post, "Giuliani boasts about finally providing evidence of fraud (which doesn’t appear to be evidence of fraud)," Dec. 4, 2020

The Independent, "Election officials disprove Trump’s viral suitcases of ballots ‘smoking gun’ video," Dec. 4, 2020

Newsmax via AirTV, Dec. 4, 2020

Facebook post, Dec. 4, 2020

Gabriel Sterling on Twitter and Facebook, Dec. 4, 2020

Fulton County Georgia on Twitter, Dec. 4, 2020

Justin Gray on Twitter, Dec. 4, 2020

Steven Fowler on Twitter, Dec. 4, 2020

Bobby Lewis on Twitter, Dec. 4, 2020

Lead Stories, "Fact Check: Video From Georgia Does NOT Show Suitcases Filled With Ballots Suspiciously Pulled From Under A Table; Poll Watchers Were NOT Told To Leave," Dec. 3, 2020

The Augusta Chronicle, "Georgia Senate panel hosts Trump attorney Giuliani as election officials dispute fraud claims," Dec. 3, 2020

Statement from One America News Network, Dec. 4, 2020

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More by Bill McCarthy

No, Georgia election workers didn’t kick out observers and illegally count ‘suitcases’ of ballots

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