By Zachary Stieber
The investigation into missing ballot drop box forms in Fulton County was launched before a public announcement this week, according to Georgia authorities.
“What prompted the announcement of the investigation was the latest story, but I think investigation was underway even before that point, because we could tell that it was just not up to standards,” an official with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office told The Epoch Times.
Mariska Bodison, with the county’s Board of Registration and Elections, told Georgia Star News this week that the chain of custody forms for approximately 19,000 absentee ballots placed in drop boxes were missing.
Afterwards, Raffensperger, a Republican, announced that the “new revelations … will be investigated thoroughly, as we have with other counties that failed to follow Georgia rules and regulations regarding drop boxes.”
But the official with his office said the probe was already underway for some time before the announcement.
“We received lots of documents. What we found out after we had a chance to dig into them is that on some of them, the paperwork wasn’t complete,” the official said. “That’s why we launched a formal investigation to get to the bottom of that.”
The office’s chief investigator, Frances Watson, conveyed that the county has had similar problems at least as far back as 2012.
“She said we haven’t had any reason to suspect, though, that there’s anything fishy with the ballots themselves, it’s just the poll workers didn’t follow through on their end of tying up the loose ends on the paperwork,” the official said.
Raffensperger earlier this year said three counties failed to complete the absentee ballot forms that are required by Georgia law, but Fulton was not one of them.
Raffensperger said his office had confirmed that the other counties in the state, including Fulton, “filled out and retained ballot transfer forms in accordance with Georgia rules.”
“The overwhelming majority of counties did what they were supposed to,” he said at the time.
The official in the secretary’s office suggested that because the office received so many documents, it took a while to sift through all of them and discover that Fulton County’s contained problems. It’s not clear why Raffensperger went public before the sifting was over.
Vernon Jones, a Georgia gubernatorial candidate, told a press conference Thursday that Raffensperger “knew all along about this information, and he has just now announced … that he’s going to investigate it.”
“Based on this new evidence we know the Secretary of State Raffensperger knew about these egregious irregularities, but still maintained our election was secure because he still choose [sic] to argue against the need for a forensic audit,” he said. “Why did Raffensperger not release this information to the public?”
Jones backs the group of voters who received low-resolution ballot images from Fulton County and are pushing to obtain higher-resolution photographs. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Monday.
A State Election Board rule promulgated last year directed transfer forms be filled out by the two-person teams who collect ballots from drop boxes. The same rule enabled the use of drop boxes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fulton County had 38 drop boxes in place for the 2020 election. Under the recently passed election reform bill, it will have eight in future elections.
Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez, a Fulton County spokesman, told The Epoch Times in an email this week that the county “followed procedures for the collection of absentee ballots from Fulton County drop boxes.”
“We maintain a large quantity of documents and researching our files from last year to produce the ballot transfer forms. We have been in communication with the Secretary of State’s office to update them of our progress on this matter,” she added.
During a Fulton County Board of Registration & Elections meeting on Thursday, Nadine Williams, the county’s elections preparation manager, told board members that the two-person teams were seen on cameras installed at the dropboxes picking up the ballots, counting them, and placing them in a sealed bag.
There were about four teams that went out daily, including weekends, to gather ballots, which they would deliver to the county’s Registration Office. The teams would deliver forms regarding the ballot count to the office with the ballots, and staff at the office would double check the numbers before filing the forms away.
Williams said the Georgia Star News article contained some “contradictions” but indicated county workers have still been unable to find some of the forms.
“There’s eight entries on the spreadsheet that we’re researching,” she said.
A county spokeswoman did not respond to a request for clarification on what she meant.
State officials have said before that Fulton County “cut corners” and was “sloppy” while running the election, but that no proof of fraud has emerged.
Also during the hearing, officials said they expect that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department is close to finishing its investigation into a break-in at the ballot storage warehouse that took place earlier this month.