Georgia judge dismisses Trump campaign case in Chatham ballot dispute

The Trump campaign lost a pair of legal challenges on Thursday, with a Savannah judge dismissing allegations that late mail-in ballots were being counted in the coastal Georgia community and a Michigan judge rejecting an effort to stop the vote count there.

In both cases, the judges found no evidence to support claims that tried to raise concerns about the integrity of ballot counting.

But the Trump campaign filed new lawsuits in two other states Thursday alleging ballot issues, according to news reports. In Nevada, the campaign announced that it was filing a lawsuit claiming that people no longer living in that state cast ballots. In Philadelphia, the campaign filed a federal lawsuit seeking an emergency injunction and Republican oversight of ballot counting. In an earlier case, the campaign also had sought to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania, but the counting continued. However, a state court said that GOP observers would be allowed to be closer to the canvassing process.

The Georgia case was filed late Wednesday after two GOP observers in Chatham County raised concerns about what they saw at the Board of Registrars office. The two questioned whether 53 ballots they suspected were late had been mingled with a stack of other absentee ballots. Georgia law requires any ballot that arrives after 7 p.m. on Election Day to be invalidated.

The hearing, however, produced no evidence that the deadline had been violated or other evidence of election law violations. Superior Court Judge James F. Bass swiftly threw out the case after listening to more than an hour of testimony and statements. His written order said nothing in the “argument and evidence of record” indicated the ballots in question were received after the deadline.

“Additionally, there is no evidence that the Chatham County Board of Elections or the Chatham County Board of Registrars has failed to comply with the law,” his order said.

The hearing offered a window into the suspicions by some poll watchers amid tensions over the closest presidential election the state has seen in decades. Both of the GOP watchers acknowledged under oath that they had no evidence that the 53 ballots in question had come in after the deadline.

Trump attorney Jonathan Crumly, Sr. said the campaign monitors had observed the handling of the ballots in a way that concerned them, and that they didn’t receive enough assurances that the law was being applied.

“All the Trump campaign wants is every legal vote cast is counted or that no illegal votes or late received ballots are counted,” said Crumley, with Taylor English firm in Atlanta.

The Chatham Board of Registrars oversees voter registration, mails out ballots and receives them back from voters but does not have a role in counting. That part is overseen by the county’s elections board.

Sean Pumphrey, one of the GOP observers, testified seeing workers Wednesday in the registrars office working with mail crates of mail-in ballots to transfer to the election office’s warehouse for counting and processing. When he observed a woman enter from another room and bring a handful of mail-in absentee ballots that were not with the original mail crates and place them on a table, he notified his colleague what he had witnessed. When they re-entered the room, the ballots were no longer on the table, he said.

“My co-worker...confronted (the woman) and asked, ‘where are those ballots?’ ” Pumphrey testified. “ ‘Why are they late?’ ”

Colin McRae, chair of registrars board, testified that the office time-stamps ballots when they are returned. McRae, an attorney, testified that he reviewed each of the 53 ballots in question on Thursday morning before the hearing.

“The time stamps all showed that they were timely received,” McRae testified.

The 53 ballots had been initially separated from the others because they’d been flagged for some reason and required additional review by her staff, said Sabrina German, director of the registrars' office. She said sometimes ballots are flagged so her office can make sure a person hasn’t double voted. Ballots also may be flagged if they are spoiled or have had to be canceled for some reason.

“It’s for the protection of the voter as well as the office,” she said.

Once the 53 ballots were verified as valid they were sent with the others to be counted, she testified.

As of Thursday morning, Chatham had received 41 mail-in ballots that arrived after the deadline, McRae said. Each of those are sequestered and letters are sent to the voters notifying them ballots arrived too late. None were sent along for counting, he said.