What ‘2000 Mules’ leaves out of ballot harvesting claims

Michael Roark of Grayson places his mail-in ballot inside an official drop box on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Michael Roark of Grayson places his mail-in ballot inside an official drop box on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Proof missing from Georgia videos and cellphone data

A new movie spreading suspicions of voter fraud, “2000 Mules,” shows surveillance video of Georgia voters dropping off multiple ballots.

Conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza says that’s a crime, suggesting that a network of unnamed “mules” rigged the presidential election for Democrat Joe Biden and against Republican Donald Trump.

Based on these unproven allegations, the documentary-style movie jumps to the conclusion that the election was stolen.

The hour and a half-long film leaves voters uninformed about precautions that help prevent mass absentee ballot fraud, instead encouraging them to believe elections were subverted by a shadowy cabal of nonprofit organizations.

The movie hinges on the theory that 2,000 people in five states, including 242 in metro Atlanta, 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.

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The movie "2000 Mules" includes video surveillance of a Fulton County ballot drop box that shows a man delivering ballots at night during the 2020 presidential election.

Credit: 2000 Mules

The movie "2000 Mules" includes video surveillance of a Fulton County ballot drop box that shows a man delivering ballots at night during the 2020 presidential election.

Credit: 2000 Mules

Combined ShapeCaption
The movie "2000 Mules" includes video surveillance of a Fulton County ballot drop box that shows a man delivering ballots at night during the 2020 presidential election.

Credit: 2000 Mules

Credit: 2000 Mules

While it’s possible that some of the alleged perpetrators shown in the movie actually committed a crime, video surveillance of drop boxes alone doesn’t prove anything. Voters might have been delivering ballots for their relatives, which is allowed.

Even if there were a ballot harvesting scheme, it wouldn’t invalidate legitimate ballots just because they were turned in by unauthorized individuals. Verified ballots of registered voters still count, regardless of how they were delivered.

Election investigators have reviewed several videos included in “2000 Mules” and found no illegal behavior, including a video that showed a Gwinnett County man inserting ballots into a drop box, according to the secretary of state’s office.

“We investigated, and the five ballots that he turned in were all for himself and his family members,” said Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during a debate last week.

In the movie, D’Souza promotes allegations made by True the Vote, a Texas-based organization that gathered drop box surveillance video and cellphone location data in parts of Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. All were swing states where Biden won.

True the Vote hasn’t cooperated with Georgia’s election investigations, refusing to disclose the names of people who allegedly harvested ballots. The State Election Board issued subpoenas on the organization last month to seek documents, recordings and names of individuals involved.

The organization also doesn’t explain how ballot harvesting could have occurred.

Every absentee ballot is assigned to the voter who requested it, and voters can only cast one ballot each.

Returned ballots must be included in an envelope that includes the voter’s registration information, signature, and a bar code. Ballots delivered without an envelope aren’t counted, meaning ballot-stuffing wouldn’t work.

True the Vote claims that cellphone location records show that “mules” visited multiple drop boxes in a day, but publicly available location data often aren’t accurate enough to prove that people actually stopped at drop boxes. They could have been driving by drop boxes on busy streets as they travel to and from work.

None of the surveillance videos in the movie shows anyone visiting more than one drop box in a day.

A map of downtown Atlanta displays cellphone travel patterns, but few of them intersect with drop boxes, which were required to be located on government property such as the Fulton County Government Center.

ExploreFrom AJC investigation: Five fraud claims from the Georgia 2020 election and what investigators actually found
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A map from the movie "2000 Mules" shows cellphone signals in downtown Atlanta, but most of these paths don't intersect with drop boxes or indicate ballot harvesting.

Credit: 2000 Mules

A map from the movie "2000 Mules" shows cellphone signals in downtown Atlanta, but most of these paths don't intersect with drop boxes or indicate ballot harvesting.

Credit: 2000 Mules

Combined ShapeCaption
A map from the movie "2000 Mules" shows cellphone signals in downtown Atlanta, but most of these paths don't intersect with drop boxes or indicate ballot harvesting.

Credit: 2000 Mules

Credit: 2000 Mules

True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht said in the movie that her organization tracked cellphones that were near both drop boxes and unidentified nonprofit organizations, which she believes coordinated the ballot harvesting operation.

“What does this even mean if this is happening in broad daylight and nobody’s doing anything to stop it?” Engelbrecht said. “It won’t stop unless we stop it.”

The GBI reviewed True the Vote’s allegations last fall and found they lacked sufficient evidence to merit a law enforcement investigation.

“What has not been provided is any other kind of evidence that ties these cellphones to ballot harvesting,” wrote GBI Director Vic Reynolds in a Sept. 30 letter. “As it exists, the data, while curious, does not rise to the level of probable cause that a crime has been committed.”

While the movie blames drop boxes for enabling ballot harvesting, it ignores the fact that multiple ballots could more easily be returned through the Post Office or home mailboxes, where there isn’t video surveillance. There’s no indication of ballot harvesting in mailed ballots during the 2020 election.

D’Souza, the filmmaker and narrator, has produced several movies and books that promote conspiracy theories and right-wing propaganda, including “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left” and “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party.”

D’Souza pleaded guilty to a felony campaign finance violation in 2014 for using straw donors to exceed contribution limits to a Republican candidate running for a U.S. Senate seat in New York. Trump pardoned D’Souza in 2018.

The movie, which costs $29.99 to stream online, ends with a QR code that directs voters to a website where they can donate money to True the Vote.