By Zachary Stieber
Workers in Georgia’s largest county on election night sealed ballots in boxes and shoved the boxes under a table that was brought into an absentee ballot counting room because they thought they were done for the evening, a top official disclosed Sunday.
Investigators with the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office interviewed witnesses and reviewed security footage of State Farm Arena in Atlanta between Nov. 3 and Nov. 4. They found that observers and media “were not asked to leave,” Frances Watson, the office’s chief investigator, wrote in a court filing.
“They simply left on their own when they saw one group of workers, whose job was only to open envelopes and who had completed that task, also leave,” Watson added.
The explanation doesn’t line up with what Regina Waller, Fulton County’s public affairs manager for elections, said on election night. She told ABC that the department sent the ballot counters at the arena home at 10:30 p.m. with no qualification.
“For clarification, I informed ABC News that some workers left but four remained,” Waller told The Epoch Times in an email last week.
A county spokeswoman told The Epoch Times on the day after the election that Registration & Elections Director Richard Barron told the Board of Commissioners that when he learned that counters were dismissed at 10:30 p.m., he advised that some workers needed to continue. It wasn’t clear what time that decision was made. The spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Poll observers say they were effectively told to leave because they heard a woman shout inside the absentee ballot counting room for workers to leave and not return until the next morning.
Surveillance video played for the public during a Georgia state legislature hearing last week showed that all observers and media left the room between 10:25 p.m. and 10:35 p.m., around the time most workers did. A handful of workers sat at tables not working until everyone left, before resuming the scanning of ballots.
The footage showed workers pull out ballot boxes from underneath the table that was moved in.
“What are these ballots doing there separate from all the other ballots, and why are they only counting them when the place is cleared out, with no witnesses?” Jacki Pick, a lawyer who is volunteering with President Donald Trump’s campaign, told lawmakers, citing chain of custody concerns.
She showed the surveillance footage during the public hearing. A woman can be seen placing the table in the room around 8:22 a.m. on Election Day. The same woman was one of the few people left late at night.
“So the same person who stayed behind now, the same person who cleared the place out under the pretense that we’re going to stop counting, is the same person who put the table there,” Pick said.
Scanning machines can process about 3,000 ballots an hour and multiple machines were being used during the approximately two hours that only workers were present.
Prompted by the public showing of the surveillance footage, a spokesman for Raffensperger’s office told The Epoch Times on Friday that they were investigating the early departure of poll observers.
“Nothing we have learned from the independent monitor or our investigation have suggested any improper ballots were scanned,” the spokesman said.
Watson said the investigation and review of footage “revealed that there were no mystery ballots that were brought in from an known location and hidden under tables as has been reported by some.” The table in question was brought into the room at 8:22 a.m. Around 10 p.m., the footage showed ballots that had already been opened, but not counted, placed in boxes, sealed up, and stored under the table, according to Watson.
Three top state officials, including Raffensperger, appeared on Sunday morning shows. None were asked about the video.
“This was done because employees thought they were done for the night and were closing up and ready to leave. When the counting continued into later in the night, those boxes were opened so that the ballots inside could then be counted,” Watson said in her affidavit.
The investigation remains open.
In response to Watson’s filing, David Shafer, the head of Georgia’s Republican Party, said: “Fulton County elections officials have been falsely denying for weeks that they announced they were shutting down for night and packed everything up. Now they are claiming that the ballots from under the table were from when they announced they were shutting down and packed up.”
The filing was entered as part of the state’s defense in Pearson v. Kemp, a case filed by Sidney Powell and other lawyers on behalf of electors who want to have outside experts examine voting machines.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday.
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