Georgia investigation dispels allegations highlighted in ‘2000 Mules’

Chairman of the State Election Board, Matthew Mashburn, addresses the public during the State Elections Board meeting. In addition, they obtain an update on investigations into election fraud allegations following the release of the movie "2000 Mules."  Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

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Chairman of the State Election Board, Matthew Mashburn, addresses the public during the State Elections Board meeting. In addition, they obtain an update on investigations into election fraud allegations following the release of the movie "2000 Mules." Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Ballots were legally delivered for family members

Surveillance video showed a man pull up in a white SUV and insert five absentee ballots into a Gwinnett County drop box, leading to allegations of “ballot harvesting” promoted by the movie “2000 Mules.”

An investigation revealed he was delivering ballots for his family, which is allowed under Georgia law.

The State Election Board voted unanimously Tuesday to dismiss that case and two similar claims that voters had illegally returned absentee ballots. An investigator told the board that in each case, he tracked license plate numbers, interviewed voters and confirmed that ballots belonged to family members in the same household.

“Just because something looks compelling doesn’t mean it’s accurate,” said Matt Mashburn, the Republican chairman of the State Election Board. “We wanted to reassure the public that yes, we have seen the videos, we are taking them very seriously, we’re tracking every one of them down, and we’ll report back to you what we find.”

ExploreWhat ‘2000 Mules’ leaves out of ballot harvesting claims

The board decided the cases as “2000 Mules” spreads the theory that 2,000 people in five states, including Georgia, collected and delivered multiple absentee ballots, a practice called “ballot harvesting.” Georgia law prohibits voters from delivering anyone’s ballot besides their own, with exceptions for family members and caregivers of disabled voters.

So far, Georgia election investigators have debunked the movie’s allegations, which conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza used to assert that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Republican Donald Trump.

One of the videos reviewed by the State Election Board was featured in “2000 Mules” and on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News. The other two cases involved videos reported to the secretary of state’s office.

The voter who filed complaints about the videos, David Cross, said perpetrators should be prosecuted and punished.

“No one has been held accountable,” Cross told the board. “I’m embarrassed to be a Georgian. Is this the way we run elections in the greatest country on Earth, like some third-rate banana republic?”

Even if ballot harvesting occurred, it wouldn’t invalidate legitimate ballots that were returned by unauthorized individuals. Verified ballots of registered voters still count, regardless of how they were delivered.

Sara Tindall Ghazal, the only Democrat on the State Election Board, criticized the unproven allegations of misconduct.

“Despite the lack of evidence of widespread illegal ballot collection activities, real harm has been caused by these unsupported allegations asserted by people seeking to profit off of it,” Ghazal said.

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The Secretary of State Office investigator, Dana Deweese (right), updated the public on election fraud allegations during the State Elections Board meeting on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Miguel Martinez/ miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The Secretary of State Office investigator, Dana Deweese (right), updated the public on election fraud allegations during the State Elections Board meeting on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Miguel Martinez/ miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Combined ShapeCaption
The Secretary of State Office investigator, Dana Deweese (right), updated the public on election fraud allegations during the State Elections Board meeting on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Miguel Martinez/ miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The movie depends on information provided by True the Vote, a Texas-based organization that gathered drop box surveillance video and cellphone location data in parts of Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All were swing states where Democrat Joe Biden won.

True the Vote hasn’t yet complied with subpoenas issued in April by the State Election Board seeking documents, recordings and names of individuals involved. Ryan Germany, an attorney for the secretary of state’s office, said the organization has concerns about protecting the confidentiality of an individual who True the Vote said has information about ballot harvesting.

The board voted Tuesday to authorize the attorney general’s office to ask a judge to enforce subpoenas and protect the confidentiality of witnesses.

“I would encourage True the Vote to cooperate with us,” board member Ed Lindsey said. “Let’s get to whether or not these allegations have any merit.”

All absentee ballots in Georgia’s presidential election were mailed to the voters who requested them, and voters could only cast one ballot each. Every returned ballot was required to be inside an envelope that included the voter’s registration information, signature and a bar code. Ballots delivered without an envelope weren’t counted.