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A worker at the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections works to process absentee ballots at the State Farm Arena Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP) A worker at the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections works to process absentee ballots at the State Farm Arena Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP)

A worker at the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections works to process absentee ballots at the State Farm Arena Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 27, 2021

Claim of ballots in “error” in Fulton County, Ga., is based on unproven allegation

If Your Time is short

  • A witness for plaintiffs seeking to inspect absentee ballots in Fulton County testified that there was a mismatch in the number of batches of ballots in the initial count and a risk-limiting audit and that he found a 21% error rate.

  • The Secretary of State’s office said the claim about the error rate is wrong. 

  • Georgia’s Republican statewide election officials have said they are confident in the presidential election results, which have already been audited and certified.

After a judge in Georgia granted a request by a self-proclaimed election watchdog to inspect absentee ballots from the state’s largest county, social media users began circulating claims about the judge’s possible rationale.

"21% of 140,000 ballots were found to be in error in GA," states a May 22 Facebook post, adding: "all hell is about to break loose."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

There has been no official finding to that effect. The claim is based on uncorroborated allegations made by a witness for the plaintiffs in the case. 

Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta, voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Joe Biden. The lawsuit seeking a review of the county’s general-election absentee ballots was filed by nine plaintiffs, including Garland Favorito, co-founder of a group called Voter GA

Favorito, a longtime critic of Georgia’s election infrastructure, has promoted conspiracy theories about 9/11 and other topics, according to Georgia Public Radio, the New York Times and the Associated Press. Favorito told PolitiFact he voted for a third party write-in candidate in November, but his legal case to inspect ballots has drawn support from Republicans.

Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero issued an order May 21 allowing the plaintiffs to inspect and scan the absentee ballots.

The Facebook posts and similar statements on Twitter suggested that the ruling followed an official finding of erroneous ballots. But that’s not the case. Nothing in Amero’s two-sentence order says anything about ballots in error.

A series of allegations arising from affidavits

One of the Facebook posts we saw with the 21% claim linked to a one-minute clip of an interview with John Fredericks, a conservative radio journalist. Fredericks cited affidavits from election officials who said they "believe" up to 30,000 ballots were "counterfeit." 

The statements in the affidavits have not been corroborated or verified. They are simply allegations.

The affidavits signed by people who worked at the polls or served as observers are filled with speculative statements about the integrity of absentee ballots, suggesting they were not properly marked or weren’t printed on normal paper. For example, one recount observer said the ballots were "perfectly filled out as if they were pre-printed." 

The statement about 21% of ballots being in "error" stems from the May 21 court testimony of plaintiffs witness David Sawyer, a forensic accountant. Sawyer testified that he compared batches of scanned images of ballots and batches from the state’s risk-limiting audit and found a discrepancy in the numbers. Sawyer said there was a possibility that there were missing batches of ballots that might not have been counted and testified that he found a 21% error rate. 

Ari Schaffer, a spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said the plaintiffs are misrepresenting the facts. "The allegation that there was a 21% error rate for Fulton County’s absentee ballots is false," Schaffer said.

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In a court document filed on behalf of Raffensperger before the court hearing, the state called the plaintiffs’ request an "unlawful fishing expedition." Raffensperger didn’t object to allowing an inspection of ballot images, but didn’t want the actual ballots handed over. The state wrote that any legal challenges to the results are moot since the results have already been tabulated, audited, recounted and certified. 

For months, Raffensperger and other statewide election officials have said they found no evidence of systematic voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

The roughly 5 million ballots cast in Georgia were counted three times, including once by hand. The hand recount uncovered more than 2,600 uncounted votes, most of which favored Trump, in Floyd County, Ga. But election officials said the mistake was due to human error, not voter fraud. State election officials debunked various falsehoods including about secret "suitcases" full of ballots or ballots being shredded. In the end, the certified results showed Biden beating Trump by 11,779 votes in the state. Lawsuits seeking to invalidate results failed in Georgia. 

Still, Raffensperger showed some support for the plaintiffs’ case seeking to inspect the ballots. Raffensperger said Georgians have a right to pursue legal cases and that Fulton County "has a longstanding history of election mismanagement." A consultant hired by the state elections board to observe Fulton’s processes in the recent elections found no "dishonesty, fraud, or intentional malfeasance" but "myriad problems" with the processing of absentee ballots.

Exactly how the ballot inspection will take place in Fulton County isn’t clear. In his brief order, the judge said he will issue a further order on protocols and practices. A May 28 meeting to discuss logistics was canceled after Fulton County officials filed motions to dismiss the case, Georgia Public Radio reported. 

Georgia election officials have expressed optimism that the process will be more secure and transparent than the ongoing audit of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, Ariz., organized by GOP lawmakers there. Election officials, including some Republicans, have criticized that audit as lacking transparency and possibly illegal. 

Our ruling

Facebook posts said "21% of 140,000 ballots were found to be in error in GA."

There has been no official finding to that effect. The claim appears to be based on uncorroborated allegations by a plaintiffs witness in a lawsuit seeking to inspect absentee ballots cast in Fulton County. The Secretary of State’s office rejected the witness’s claim as false.

A judge granted the plaintiffs’ request, but his order didn’t mention anything about the alleged error rate.

Georgia’s top statewide election officials, who are Republicans, have audited, certified and stood by results showing that Biden won the state.

The Facebook post cites a speculative claim about a 21% error rate. We rate this statement Mostly False.

RELATED: Claim that Georgia decertified the election is a Pants on Fire falsehood

RELATED: Here’s why Georgia’s Republican officials are confident in their presidential election results

RELATED: Fowl play? Social media users falsely claim Arizona ballots were destroyed in chicken farm fire

 

Our Sources

Facebook post, May 22, 2021

Georgia Public Radio, What Is Happening With Fulton County's Absentee Ballots? May 25, 2021

Georgia Public Radio reporter Stephen Fowler, Tweet, May 25, 2021

Georgia Public Radio, Report Shows No Fraud But Many Problems With Fulton Voting Process, Feb. 17, 2021

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia headed toward yet another presidential election review, May 21, 2021

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ballot inspection seeks elusive proof of fraud in Georgia election, May 27, 2021

New York Times, Long After Trump’s Loss, a Push to Inspect Ballots Persists, May 24, 2021

Washington Post, In echo of Arizona, Georgia state judge orders Fulton County to allow local voters to inspect mailed ballots cast last fall, May 21, 2021

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Tweet, May 21, 2021

Georgia Secretary of State, Risk Limiting Audit and county summary data, Nov. 19, 2020

Superior Court of Fulton County, Order by Judge Brian Amero, May 21, 2021

Superior Court of Fulton County, Brief by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, April 2, 2021

Youtube, Fulton County Nov. 3rd Ballot Access FOIA Hearing Part 6, May 21, 2021

CNN Wire, Arizona and Georgia audits move forward as Republicans continue to push election fraud lies, May 24, 2021

ABC News, It's not just Arizona: Push to review 2020 ballots spreads, May 25, 2021

Voter GA website and press release, May 24, 2021

AP, It’s not just Arizona: Push to review 2020 ballots spreads, May 26, 2021

Email interview, Ari Schaffer, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spokesperson, May 27, 2021

Email interview, Garland Favorito, a plaintiff in a case seeking to inspect Fulton County absentee ballots, May 26, 2021

 

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Claim of ballots in “error” in Fulton County, Ga., is based on unproven allegation

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