Election skeptics suing to ‘audit’ 2020 Fulton ballots running short of options

By: - July 19, 2021 7:00 am

Auditors unpack absentee ballots in Macon on Nov. 13, the first day of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election statewide hand count. Eight months later, some Georgia voters are still on a quest for an in-depth inspection of absentee ballots. Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB News

Ten Fulton County, Ga., voters looking to prove the baseless claims that widespread fraud factored in President Joe Biden’s Nov. 3 general election victory are banking on their review of public records to provide ammunition in their quest for an in-depth inspection of absentee ballots.

But even with their revelation this week that they’ve identified nearly 200 Fulton ballots that were initially double-counted, some experts say they are unlikely to get special access to 147,000 ballots. And never mind the group’s request to inspect the ballots with a high-powered microscope.

Although the ballots were initially scanned twice last fall, there’s no indication any vote in Georgia’s historic presidential election was included more than once in official results.

Garland Favorito is the public face of plaintiffs in a lawsuit aiming for an in-depth inspection of Fulton County absentee ballots cast in the Nov. 3 general election. This week he said his group discovered nearly 200 duplicated ballots initially counted, but the votes were not mistakenly included in an official tally. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

On Tuesday, VoterGa founder, lead spokesman and plaintiff Garland Favorito presented the group’s amended lawsuit after combing through digital ballot images, tally sheets and documents connected to the 2020 election and a hand recount conducted after Biden’s narrow win in Georgia.

Their goal is to use high-powered microscopes and inspect high-resolution images of absentee ballots in their effort to prove the baseless claims that fraud and irregularities played a significant factor in election results that delivered former President Donald Trump a loss in Georgia to Biden by about 12,000 votes.

After a judge granted Fulton County’s request to dismiss the bulk of the lawsuit last month, the lone remaining defendants in the lawsuit are also the most recent additions — the individual members of the election board. 

They, too, stand a good chance of getting their case tossed based on sovereign immunity protections cited by Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero when he removed the county, the elections board, and court clerk as defendants, said elections law attorney Kurt Kastorf.

It appears the plaintiffs are fighting long odds to get a more up-close and in-depth inspection of the ballots, he said.

“It seems like a lot of the potential claims they would want to use against an individual official will have immunity problems because they will be claims about how the Fulton County officials effectuated their job duties,” said Kastorf, whose law practice is in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

“There may be some narrow subset of violations that the plaintiffs believe occurred where there’s a very clear rule telling the election official exactly what to do,” Kastorf said. “And if they focus on those claims, it’s possible some of those do get past a defense of immunity.”

For Favorito, his optimism remains as strong as it was when Amero unsealed the ballots in May before a planned visit to an election records warehouse came to a halt after Fulton County attorney’s asked Amero to dismiss the case.

Fulton Chairman Robb Pitts says Favorito’s group is relying on the disproven conspiracy theories that the election in Georgia was stolen from Trump. State election officials repeatedly debunked unfounded claims of election fraud and resisted pressure from Trump to overturn Biden’s Georgia victory.

“The Big Lie is a dangerous conspiracy theory falsely claiming that tens of thousands of votes in Fulton County – and millions nationwide – were fraudulent, not that there’s the possibility of small-scale human error,” he said in an email. “Anything involving humans counting over half a million ballots is open to possible error, which is why we have the machine recounts that catch this.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger declined to comment Wednesday about the suit by Favorito’s group. The state’s top election chief has called the Nov. 3 election the most secure in the state’s history, with results that several recounts – including one by hand – have confirmed.

Raffensperger is a frequent critic of Fulton’s elections management, and his office is conducting an ongoing investigation of it.

Conspiracy theories keep Trump’s stolen election claims alive

The efforts of Favorito’s group have gained the attention of Trump, who publicly supported them Wednesday. Despite multiple recounts confirming Georgia’s outcome, ardent Trump supporters, including influential GOP Georgia legislators, continue to repeat his false claim that the election was rigged.

Recent polls by various outlets show more than half of Republicans across the country said they still view Trump as the true president.

“The only thing that would change their minds is if Trump goes on Fox News and says ‘Sorry guys, I was wrong,’” said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor. “But as he continues to propagate the lie, his people are going to continue to believe him.”

As for Favorito, he said he still believes they’ll be a step closer to proving Trump correct as he expects Amero to sign off on the close-up inspection in the next month or so.

That includes relying on as a consultant Jovan Pulitzer, whose unproven technology is getting put to the test in an Arizona audit where Republican lawmakers have given consultants access to every ballot and voting machine in the state.

“I think we’ll conduct an inspection similar to Arizona,” Favorito said. “They have a full-blown audit, and we’re just inspecting 147,000 ballots, so it’s not going to be at that level of detail. But I’m really confident that that’s going forward.”

Having someone like Pulitzer, who peddled election conspiracy theories before a Georgia Senate committee in December, assisting in the Fulton inspection doesn’t lend credibility, said Esosa Osa, research and policy director for the voting rights group Fair Fight Action.

Pulitzer has been called a glorified treasure hunter by progressive election rights organizations that say the Fulton County and Arizona ballot reviews are “shams.”

“There are not serious actors with serious backgrounds in elections,” Osa said.

Fair Fight has teamed up with the Brennan Center for Justice, United to Protect Democracy and States United Action to create a new website detailing the “fake” audits and reviews.

The audits in Arizona and the proposed inspection in Fulton are assaults on democracy, said Gowri Ramachandran, a counsel for election security at Brennan Center for Justice.

“These partisan reviews, they’re conducted by people who are just totally lacking in competence and objectivity,” she said. “They’re also nothing like the external process that you might see an inspector general or auditing office engaged in.”

This story was originally published by the Georgia Recorder, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom, which includes the Florida Phoenix.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap is a reporter at the Georgia Recorder, part of the nonprofit States Newsroom that includes the Florida Phoenix. Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. He is a graduate of the University of Memphis.

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