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Posts misrepresent impact of missing ballot images in Georgia

November 12, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: The fact that some Georgia counties cannot produce the original electronic ballot images from the 2020 election indicates that election fraud took place. Now the state has no way to verify that the ballots are legitimate reflections of what went through the machines.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. It’s true some Georgia counties violated state law by failing to preserve electronic images from the original count of ballots from the 2020 election, but this does not prove fraud or affect the election outcome. Georgia counties still have all the paper ballots cast in the election, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The results of the presidential race in Georgia were counted three times, and all three tallies showed Democrat Joe Biden prevailing over Republican incumbent Donald Trump.

THE FACTS: Social media users are reigniting unsupported claims of 2020 election meddling in Georgia after a longtime critic of Georgia’s election systems pointed out that some of the state’s counties could not produce electronic ballot images from that election.

The electronic images are automatically produced when ballots are scanned and tabulated. They are considered election records and must be kept for two years following an election, according to state law.

Garland Favorito, the leader of a group called VoterGA and a longtime critic of Georgia’s election administration, said Tuesday that his group sent open records requests to all 159 counties in the state asking for the electronic ballot images from the Nov. 3, 2020, election. A sweeping new election law enacted this year made the ballot images subject to public disclosure.

“We want to check the counts. We want to verify that everything was correct as reported,” Favorito said.

Favorito said election officials in about a third of the state’s counties were unable to provide complete sets of electronic ballot images in response to his group’s open records requests. Some said they didn’t have any of the original images, while others only had some. He said six others claimed to have sent records that his group had yet to receive and a dozen counties didn’t respond to the requests or asked for exorbitant fees to produce the records. He said Friday he stands by those numbers.

The Associated Press did spot checks using the lists of counties that Favorito said produced no ballot images or only some of them. While a few counties disputed Favorito’s allegations and said they did, in fact, retain the original ballot images, others acknowledged that they were missing some or all of the images, including Fulton and Cobb County, two of the state’s most populous counties.

Several conservative commentators and politicians seized on the revelation that some Georgia counties were unable to produce ballot images. A statement Tuesday from Trump’s Save America PAC said: “Wow, look what was just found in Georgia. Why doesn’t Governor Brian Kemp do something about the large-scale Election Fraud that took place? Where is Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger? The people of Georgia get it!”

Another widely circulating post on Twitter repeated the fraud claims and broadened them to falsely state that “ALL in person ballot images in GA are missing.”

Technically, without the original ballot images, a county wouldn’t have exact image files to match the ballots that went through the vote-counting machines in the first vote count. However, this does not mean the election results are unverifiable.

Georgia counties have preserved their paper ballots, in accordance with state and federal law, according to Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the secretary of state’s office. Those paper ballots are the official record of how Georgia residents voted, and could theoretically be recounted if needed.

“They have all of the actual ballots that have been counted 3 times,” Sterling said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The results of the 2020 presidential election were counted three times in Georgia. First, when the paper ballots were initially scanned and tabulated immediately following the election. Next, all of the paper ballots were counted by hand to satisfy a new audit requirement in state law. Finally, the ballots were scanned and counted again at the request of Trump’s campaign. All three tallies showed Democrat Joe Biden prevailing over Trump.

“There is zero doubt that three counts of the ballots resulted in conclusive results on who won the election in Georgia,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement to the AP. “Wishful thinking by conspiracy theorists cannot change the outcome, no matter what immaterial technicality they claim to have identified this week.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.