McDONOUGH, Ga. — Grasping for evidence of election fraud, lawyers for skeptical voters asked a judge Monday to keep their case alive and allow them to inspect 147,000 Fulton County absentee ballots with high-powered microscopes in the Georgia World Congress Center.
But attorneys for the county told Superior Court Judge Brian Amero he should dismiss all or part of the lawsuit because last year’s election is over, there’s no proof of fraud, and no one’s voting rights are in jeopardy.
Amero, a Henry County judge assigned to consider the Fulton case, didn’t immediately issue a ruling Monday, saying he needed time to review the issues before making a decision. Amero had previously ordered Fulton to unseal its absentee ballots but put the ballot inspection on hold while he considered motions to dismiss the case.
The legal dispute is the latest front in nationwide attempts by supporters of former Republican President Donald Trump to back up claims that there were counterfeit ballots or ballot stuffing in his re-election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. Another ballot inspection has been underway in Arizona for months.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Georgia election officials have repeatedly said there’s no evidence of significant fraud in the election after ballots were counted three times last year. The secretary of state’s office is investigating over 100 complaints about last year’s general election, and even if all of them exposed invalid votes, Biden still would have won.
The plaintiffs based their case on sworn statements from several Republicans who said they saw “pristine” ballots with perfectly filled in ovals during Georgia’s manual recount and audit in November.
A lawyer for the Fulton County elections board, Amanda Clark Palmer, said state investigators have already reviewed those ballot batches and didn’t find fraud. The secretary of state’s office confirmed Monday that its findings didn’t indicate any counterfeit ballots.
“They think they will be able to come back to the court and say, ‘Look, now we can show you there’s fraud or counterfeit ballots,’” Clark Palmer told the judge. “But they’re going to have to plead that in a complaint. They haven’t done it so far.”
Attorneys seeking the ballot inspection brushed aside legal arguments about whether the government is immune from being sued or if the judge has the authority to weigh in on an election that was decided seven months ago.
They said the courts need to intervene to prevent the possibility of election fraud in the future.
“You hear incredulous arguments that you would expect to hear in Cuba made in a court here in this country that fiddle dee dee, these petitioners don’t have a right to redress in this court,” said plaintiff’s attorney Bob Cheeley. “There was unlawful activity. There was unlawful acts at Fulton County on the night of the election.”
A monitor installed by the majority Republican State Election Board to watch Fulton’s elections last fall concluded that there was sloppy management but no evidence of fraud.
When asked by the judge, Cheeley said that he’s not aware of any evidence showing absentee ballots filled out by machines instead of people. He said a ballot inspection by experts hired by the plaintiffs would find out.
It’s unclear how the judge will rule or whether the ballot review will move forward. Amero could dismiss part of the case while allowing the ballot inspection to continue, as he ordered last month.
But an attorney for Fulton County told the judge that while ballot images are now public records in Georgia, that doesn’t entitle the plaintiffs to the kind of deep ballot scrutiny that they’re seeking.
Though digital images of scanned ballots have been made public under the Georgia Open Records Act, the plaintiffs want Fulton’s elections office to make higher-resolution scans, and they also want to be able to conduct an in-person inspection of the original ballots. The ballots would remain in the custody of election officials, and the plaintiffs would be responsible for the costs of the review.
Amero didn’t indicate when he would issue a ruling.
“It’s important that I have some time to review and think about it, so that’s what I’m going to do, is take it under advisement,” Amero said.
The story so far
What happened: A judge considered motions to dismiss a lawsuit by election skeptics who want to be able to inspect Fulton County absentee ballots to look for counterfeits.
The latest: The judge heard arguments in court Monday and will consider the case before making a ruling.
What’s next: If the case survives, a review of Fulton County absentee ballots could move forward under rules set by the judge. But the court could also decide to dismiss the case as requested by the county’s attorneys.
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