FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — A Georgia superior court judge ruled that a group alleging fraud in the 2020 election will be allowed to unseal Fulton County's absentee ballots.
A group of voters and election observers originally filed the suit back in December, centering their claims on the events at State Farm Arena on election night and in the counting process.
The state's election officials have accounted for the events of that night in detail. 11Alive's Brendan Keefe also addressed the claims in a report in December: Fact-checking claims about Fulton County's election | These 'suitcases' are actually ballot containers
Claims of abnormalities witnessed in the counting of ballots were incorporated into a number of election challenges that failed to stop Georgia's certification of its election results.
The group sought access to the ballots under Georgia's open records request statutes.
The ruling by Henry County Judge Brian Amero, signed on Friday, said the petitioners "shall only be permitted to inspect and scan said ballots [the Nov. 3, 2020, general election absentee ballots] in accordance with protocols and practices that will be set forth by further order of the court."
In a pair of tweets, Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger signaled support for the ruling.
"From day one, I have encouraged Georgians with concerns about the election in their counties to pursue those claims through legal avenues," the secretary wrote. "Fulton County has a long-standing history of election mismanagement that has understandably weakened voters’ faith in its system. Allowing this audit provides another layer of transparency and citizen engagement."
The Stacey Abrams-led voting group Fair Fight Action countered that the inspection process will be a "sham" and compared it to a current effort in Arizona the group characterized as "discredited."
"The latest Big Lie news out of Georgia is a sideshow, not an audit," the group wrote on Twitter.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said in a statement that it was "outrageous" that the county has been a "target of those who cannot accept the results from last year’s election."
In court last month, the petitioners submitted an inspection plan as follows:
- The ballots will remain in the custody of the clerk’s office at all times
- Provisions are made for the Special Master to oversee all proceedings
- Three representatives of the Fulton Co. Clerk’s office can view proceedings and confirm the chain of custody in the unsealing and resealing of ballot boxes
- Stationary videography will cover the room to ensure that no tampering of any kind occurs during the inspection
- The process will include a detailed visual mail-in ballot inspection and produce 600 D.P.I. images of those ballots consolidated on certified and sealed hard drives that can be distributed to experts for forensic inspection
- Inspectors will consist of Georgia residents who will have a background check and a court-approved Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) tendered to the Special Master and Opposing Counsel three days before the inspection
- Each inspector will confirm in their NDA that they will not disclose any findings they may be aware of until such findings are presented in court
- If the proposed inspection plan is approved, it can be conducted according to hours of operations of Fulton Co and completed within 5 days
- Petitioner’s Counsel and employees need not be present for the inspection
- The inspection will conform to the 45 person capacity assigned for the room
- Inspectors will not use blue or black ink pens to record their notes on box and batch worksheets that are used for mathematical analysis
The plan also called for inspection personnel to be selected from a list of Georgia residents that are expected to include: seven poll managers, six hand count auditors, 10+ poll workers, 5+ audit or recount monitors, and three monitor coordinators.
It is not yet clear when the group will unseal the ballots. However, the ruling said counsel for the parties will need to appear at the location where the ballots are being stored at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 28.