A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday by Donald Trump supporters who sought to inspect absentee ballots from last year’s presidential election, a decision that came a day after Georgia investigators told the court they were unable to find any counterfeit ballots.
Superior Court Judge Brian Amero’s ruling ended the last remaining major lawsuit over Georgia’s 2020 election and prevented an outside review of Fulton County’s 147,000 original absentee ballots.
The judge’s order is the latest in a series of decisions against supporters of the former Republican president who have asked the courts to help them pursue suspicions of fraud or reverse the results of the election.
State election officials have said there’s no indication of fraud after three ballot counts and multiple investigations. In last year’s presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.
Though Amero’s decision was based on the legal principle of standing — the plaintiffs hadn’t suffered a specific injury that would give them a right to sue — he reviewed the evidence before making his ruling.
State election investigators couldn’t find any fraudulent or counterfeit ballots within ballot batches cited by Republican vote-counters who participated in a statewide audit in November, according to a court filing Tuesday on behalf of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
There was no indication of “pristine” ballots with perfectly filled-in ovals and no creases, as alleged in the lawsuit. All ballots in those batches appeared to be authentic.
“While no election is perfect, there was no widespread fraud or illegal voting large enough to overturn the election,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said Wednesday. “The results were, as we reported, that President Trump came up short in the state of Georgia.”
Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts called the dismissal of the lawsuit “a win for democracy.”
“This lawsuit was the result of the ‘big lie,’ which is nothing more than a meritless conspiracy theory being spread by people who simply cannot accept that their side lost,” Pitts said. “Its defeat here today should echo throughout the nation.”
AJC indepth: Inside the 2020 election in Georgia
Credit: Christine Tannous/AJC
Credit: Christine Tannous/AJC
The lead plaintiff in the case, Garland Favorito of the group VoterGA, said an in-depth inspection of absentee ballots was necessary to search for the counterfeit ballots that state investigators couldn’t find. He plans to appeal Amero’s dismissal.
“All citizens of Georgia have a right to know whether or not counterfeit ballots were injected into the Fulton County election results,” Favorito said. “It is not adequate for any organization to secretly tell us there are no counterfeit ballots and refuse to let the public inspect them.”
Trump criticized the ruling in a mass email to his supporters.
“After a very long wait, a judge in Georgia refuses to let us look at the ballots, which I have little doubt are terrible,” Trump wrote. “The fight continues, we will never give up.”
While original paper ballots remain confidential government records, digital images of absentee ballots have been made public.
The ballot images don’t contain the kind of perfectly filled-in ovals and lack of fold marks that the plaintiffs had alleged.
Amero had previously dismissed the case against Fulton’s elections board and the county itself, but he allowed it to continue against individual members of the elections board.
The judge’s decision Wednesday dismisses remaining claims against three Democrats and two Republicans who were members of the board. The plaintiffs had sought to allow the case to move forward against only the board’s Republican members, who didn’t oppose the ballot review.
The plaintiffs had asserted their votes were diluted because of a “substantial likelihood” that fraudulent ballots were introduced into the election. But Amero wrote in his dismissal order Wednesday that the plaintiffs failed to allege that they had been specifically harmed, a requirement for bringing lawsuits in both state and federal courts.
Amero’s dismissal order relied on a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December that rejected an effort by attorney L. Lin Wood to overturn the presidential election in Georgia. The appellate court found Wood lacked standing to sue.
“This litigation really was just a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” said Amanda Clark Palmer, an attorney for the defendants. “And hopefully, this will bring it to a final conclusion.”