Surveillance tape breeds false fraud claims in Georgia
Surveillance footage of ballot processing on election night in Atlanta is fueling a false social media narrative of “suitcases filled with ballots” hidden under a cloth-covered table and tallied without supervision, even as top state officials confirm election workers followed standard procedure.
The video showed regular ballot containers on wheels — not suitcases — and both a state investigator and an independent monitor observed counting until it was done for the night, finding no evidence of improper ballots, state and county officials said on Friday.
That hasn’t stopped President Donald Trump, his campaign, his lawyers and his supporters from sharing the video with false fraud accusations in a spate of Facebook and Twitter posts that have racked up millions of views in less than 24 hours.
Here’s a look at the facts around this viral video:
CLAIM: Poll workers and partisan observers were told to leave Atlanta’s State Farm Arena on election night, but four election workers stayed behind, pulled suitcases full of ballots out from under a table, and scanned them after hours without any supervision.
THE FACTS: The video doesn’t show evidence of fraud, much less the “SMOKING GUN” evidence that Trump’s legal team claims on social media.
No one told observers they had to leave, and both an independent monitor and an investigator oversaw the vote count, according to state and county officials. Confusion arose when election workers thought they were done for the night, but then were instructed to continue scanning ballots. But investigators who reviewed the entire surveillance tape confirmed it showed “normal ballot processing,” according to Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the secretary of state’s office.
The video, which shows clips of surveillance footage from a room where ballots were counted, began gaining traction online on Thursday after volunteer Trump attorney Jackie Pick presented it for state senators during a hearing at the state Capitol.
Pick claimed it showed a staff member telling partisan observers to leave the facility for the night about 10:30 p.m. After observers were “cleared out,” she said, four election workers stayed behind, pulled suitcases of ballots out from underneath a table, and counted them for two hours with no witnesses present.
Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron refuted those claims on Friday, saying in a public meeting that no observers were ever told to leave the facility.
According to Barron, staff members who had been opening and flattening ballots for scanning started leaving the facility as their duties concluded.
Other election workers started to pack up, Sterling told The Associated Press in an interview. They put prepared ballots back in boxes and away under a table “to close out for the night.” Members of the media and Republican observers began to leave the building too.
Then, the supervisor onsite got a call from Barron, who instructed the team to continue scanning the ballots that had already been prepared. They pulled the same boxes of ballots back out, and resumed scanning, Sterling said.
“These aren’t magical ballots,” Sterling told the AP. “They didn’t show up out of some other room.”
Georgia law § 21-2-408 permits observers to stay in the room the whole time, but doesn’t require it for counting to take place.
After a short period when observers weren’t present, an independent state election board monitor arrived to oversee the scanning at 11:52 p.m., Barron said. A state investigator arrived at 12:15 a.m. Both individuals remained at the facility until the count concluded for the night, he said.
The Georgia secretary of state’s office said it was aware of the late-night counting, and confirmed that both its investigator and an independent monitor observed scanning “until it was halted for the night.”
The office said it had launched an investigation into why partisan poll observers left before scanning ended.
The president’s team is “intentionally misleading the public about what happened at State Farm Arena on election night,” Sterling tweeted Friday. “They had the whole video too and ignored the truth.”
Associated Press writer Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.