Fact Check: Were ‘suitcases of ballots’ counted in secret in Georgia?

The president’s legal team came to a Georgia State Senate hearing Thursday to share allegations of fraud and misconduct within Georgia’s election. Most of the claims were false, misleading or lacking actual evidence.

During the nearly 7-hour meeting of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by outgoing State Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), lawmakers were repeatedly told that Georgia’s election, in which President-elect Joe Biden narrowly won the state’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes over President Donald Trump, was illegitimate and needed to be tossed. 

The bulk of the hearing focused on arguments made by Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani, who has traveled to multiple battleground states seeking to overturn results with dubious legal claims that allege a grand conspiracy to take the White House from President Trump. Thursday’s trip to Georgia was no different.

In a series of fantastical claims and statements from various and sundry people touted as experts, Giuliani falsely told a room of mostly Republican lawmakers that Georgia’s voting machines could not be trusted, tens of thousands of absentee ballots were illegally cast and counted and that the legislature should appoint its own slate of electors for President Trump.

Explosive claims made during the hearing have further undermined confidence in Georgia’s election integrity among supporters of President Trump, even as the secretary of state’s office has debunked the concerns and called last month’s election one of the most secure and successful in recent history.

No, there were no ‘suitcases of ballots’ counted in secret

The most viral claim from the hearing is a 90-second clip of surveillance footage from Fulton County’s tabulation center set up at State Farm Arena. Culled from hours of vote counting, the short clip allegedly shows election workers bringing suitcases of ballots out from underneath a table to be counted in secret after Republican monitors were told to go home.

But that’s not what was shown and the claims misunderstand the laws and rules around counting.

State and county officials, including investigators for the secretary of state’s office, said that the video clip making the rounds show the normal tabulation process. No monitors were told to leave, but Republican monitors and members of the media left when some election employees called “cutters” wrapped up for the night.

Georgia law § 21-2-408 spells out the rules for partisan poll watchers, allowing them to be present and monitor aspects of the elections process. But having monitors there is not required — and in fact, Democrats did not have monitors present at that time.

As for the so-called suitcase full of ballots allegedly removed from under the table? It was empty, the state’s investigator said.

“There wasn’t a bin that had ballots in it under the table,” Frances Watson told Lead Stories. “It was an empty bin and the ballots from it were actually out on the table when the media were still there, and then it was placed back into the box when the media were still there and placed next to the table.”

Furthermore, elections officials say there was nothing abnormal about the tabulation of ballots shown on the video.

“What the video shows is that they have pulled out plastic bins from underneath the desks,” Fulton elections director Rick Barron said Friday morning. “It was normal processing that occurred there, as Gabe Sterling from the state explained this morning.”

Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, said that investigators for the state watched the full surveillance video from Election Day and said those bins of ballots were already there and accounted for earlier in the day, while both monitors and the media were there.

A monitor appointed by the state election board had also briefly left and returned at 11:52 p.m. and another state investigator was there starting at 12:15 a.m. The final ballots were scanned around 12:43 a.m.

So no ballots were illegally counted in secret, there was no “suitcase” of ballots being added into the totals. The clip is misleading and the claims untrue. 

Photo: Rudy Guiliani talks with Georgia State Sens. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) and Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) during a break in a Georgia State Senate hearing Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Credit: Stephen Fowler / GPB News

This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GA Today, a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.

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