More ballot reviews pending in Georgia, sowing doubts in elections

Inspection of absentee ballot images planned in Fulton County
Fulton County elections workers sort and count absentee ballots in November during the county's second recount of Election Day ballots at the Georgia World Congress Center. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Fulton County elections workers sort and count absentee ballots in November during the county's second recount of Election Day ballots at the Georgia World Congress Center. (Alyssa Pointer /

Long after the presidential election was settled, a perpetual quest to find evidence of fraud continues in Georgia through demands for ballot inspections and audits.

Two Republican state senators who publicly backed former President Donald Trump’s unproven claims of election fraud toured an ongoing Arizona ballot review this week, raising the possibility that they could seek a similar inquiry in Georgia.

A ballot analysis is already pending in Fulton County after a judge recently allowed a review of high-resolution copies of absentee ballots. The county has asked the judge to dismiss the case before the ballot inspection moves forward.

Election audits are the latest attempt by Trump’s supporters to question the outcome of the election. While unbiased audits are meant to increase public confidence or find errors, election experts say these belated ballot inspections often lack standards to ensure objective findings.

Georgia’s election has gone through two audits so far. First, election workers manually recounted all 5 million ballots to confirm Joe Biden’s 12,000-vote victory over Trump in the presidential race. Then, GBI and state election investigators audited voter signatures on 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County and didn’t find a single case of fraud.

But skeptics of the election say those audits didn’t go far enough. They want a deeper review to try to find whether there were counterfeit ballots, as alleged by Republican Party members who said they saw “pristine” ballots without folds and perfectly filled-in ovals during Georgia’s hand recount.

There’s no evidence of significant fraud in Georgia’s election, according to state and county election officials. The secretary of state’s office is investigating over 100 complaints of irregularities in last year’s general election, and even if all of them exposed invalid votes, Biden still would have won.

The Georgia senators who visited Arizona’s ballot review, run by a company called Cyber Ninjas rather than election officials, haven’t revealed their next steps. The company’s chief executive officer had tweeted support for Trump’s election conspiracy theories. It has no previous experience with election audits.

Republican Sens. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta and Burt Jones of Jackson, both of whom are considering campaigns for higher office, didn’t return messages seeking comment. Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer and GOP gubernatorial candidate Vernon Jones also toured the Arizona arena where 2.1 million ballots are being scrutinized. Like Jones and Beach, Shafer and Jones have frequently repeated fraud allegations.

Partisan election reviews without strict rules and a strong chain of ballot custody are nothing more than attempts to find a different result, said David Levine of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an organization that advocates for election integrity. Arizona’s ballot inspection is missing those safeguards, he said.

“There’s a real concern that such an effort can further polarize folks when we continue to see large parts of the country that don’t view results of the 2020 election as legitimate,” Levine said. “I feel confidence in the integrity of Georgia’s election results based on the processes they had and the reviews they did.”

Supporters of further ballot reviews in Georgia say previous audits failed to go far enough because they recounted the same ballots without double-checking that they were legitimate. They say analyzing absentee ballots in Fulton — a Democratic stronghold that went heavily for Biden — would find the truth.

“That kind of transparency and true evaluation of the evidence under oath in a court of law and under the court’s supervision will increase confidence in the elections,” said Kurt Hilbert, an attorney representing the conservative Tea Party Patriots, a group that filed a court brief supporting the Fulton case.

There are numerous protections to ensure ballots are legitimate.

Ballots are only issued to registered voters, all of whom had to provide identification before voting for the first time in Georgia. Absentee ballots must be returned in envelopes that match voters to their addresses and registration information.

The number of absentee ballots counted must closely align with the number returned. Election officials verified voters by checking their signatures, and in future elections, driver’s license and state ID numbers will be used to validate voters, according to Georgia’s new voting law.

Election audits are valuable when they’re open to public observation and conducted with a vetted methodology that sets clear and transparent standards, said Ben Adida, executive director for VotingWorks, the organization hired to assist with Georgia’s audit and manual recount in November.

Unlike so-called forensic audits in the financial or criminal world, election audits are unable to connect paper records to individuals because of voter secrecy laws. Instead, election audits check procedures and tabulations that rely on paper ballots.

“The way we get through these times of doubt and distrust is by presenting more objectively obtained data and evidence,” Adida said. “It may be rocky, but it’s still the way through.”

Georgia law required a type of ballot review called a risk-limiting audit of November’s election. That kind of audit was designed to check a sample of ballots to verify the election’s outcome with a high degree of confidence, but Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger decided on a hand recount of all ballots because of the closeness of the race.

New laws requiring more audits would need to be approved by the Georgia General Assembly, which has already completed this year’s legislative session. The state’s recently passed voting law didn’t change auditing requirements.

In the meantime, those who want to scrutinize ballots are counting on the pending Fulton absentee ballot review. A judge will consider the county’s motions to dismiss the case during a June 21 hearing.

Unlike in Arizona’s ballot review, original paper ballots in Fulton would remain in the custody of election workers, with digital ballot images reviewed by outside experts in the court case. The plaintiffs are responsible for the costs of the review.

“This is all we have wanted from the beginning, and why people are attempting to obstruct that is beyond me,” Jones, who is considering a run for lieutenant governor, said in a statement last month. “This is a step in the right direction to restore confidence in our elections.”

But audits conducted with an agenda to discredit elections will harm voter confidence rather than build it, said David Becker, executive director for the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonpartisan organization that consults with election officials in Georgia and other states to improve voter trust and participation.

“These audits are not being driven by any real concerns or evidence that there were problems in administration of elections,” Becker said. “They’re being driven by the sore-loserness of a candidate on the presidential level.”