Yet another ballot audit is set to move ahead in Georgia’s most populous county after a judge ruled Friday that absentee ballots could be unsealed for parties looking to examine them for evidence of fraud.
The review of Fulton County’s absentee ballots, which is not set to begin until the judge reviews the terms of the audit, comes as conservatives have clamored for election audits in a number of states in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s November loss. The baseless belief that there was widespread fraud has persisted among some Republicans, despite the lack of evidence.
While the Fulton County case paves the way for yet another ballot audit, it will not lead to Georgia’s election results – which have already been certified for President Joe Biden – being overturned.
The decision in Georgia comes after a handful of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to access the ballots. But the audit in Fulton County is likely to come with more stipulations than the opaquely operated, GOP-run audit playing out in Arizona’s Maricopa County.
While Henry County Judge Brian Amero ordered that the ballots be unsealed, “Petitioners shall only be permitted to inspect and scan said ballots in accordance with protocols and practices that will be set forth by further order of the Court,” according to court documents. The judge directed counsel for the parties to convene where the ballots are being stored next week.
Garland Favorito, one of the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit and the co-founder of Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia, said he and his counterparts are formulating a plan to scan and forensically analyze the Fulton County mail-in ballots. He said they will submit that plan to the judge before May 28.
Favorito told CNN that he hopes roughly half a dozen experts will have a chance to evaluate the newly scanned ballot images and search for characteristics that could determine whether any ballots are counterfeit.
“The reason that we want to do it is to determine whether or not there are counterfeit ballots,” Favorito said.
Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts, a Democrat, slammed the push for yet another review of the 2020 election.
“It is outrageous that Fulton County continues to be a target of those who cannot accept the results from last year’s election,” Pitts said. “The votes have been counted three times, including a hand recount, and no evidence of fraud has been found. The fact remains that Fulton County safely and securely carried out an election in the midst of a public health pandemic. It’s a shame to see that the ‘Big Lie’ lives on and could cost the hardworking taxpayers of this county.”
He dismissed concerns about counterfeit ballots as little more than a conservative pipe dream.
“This conspiracy theory about counterfeit ballots has been trotted out by proponents of the ‘Big Lie’ across the country and shot down every time,” Pitts said. “Whether it’s looking for bamboo in Arizona’s ballots or searching for counterfeits in Fulton’s, it is nonsense.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has come under fire from many members of his own party after standing up to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election, offered a more sanguine response to the judge’s ruling.
“From day one I have encouraged Georgians with legitimate concerns about the election in their counties to pursue those claims through legal avenues,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “Fulton County has a longstanding history of election mismanagement that has understandably weakened voters’ faith in its system. Allowing this audit provides another layer of transparency and citizen engagement.”
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office also noted that Georgia counties have already undergone hand audits and re-scanned each ballot after the Trump campaign requested a recount. Those reviews upheld the original election result showing Biden won the state – the first Democrat to do so since 1992.
Other conservatives, including former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, cheered the judge’s decision.
“Voter confidence in our election system is the bedrock of our republic,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, inconsistencies in Fulton County’s November 2020 absentee ballots cast serious doubt on voters’ faith in our elections.”
But the audit will not change the results of the election.
“It’s not an election challenge and therefore this case alone could not do that,” Favorito said. “What this case is about is the equal protection and due process, constitutional rights, of the plaintiffs and all Georgia voters. Because if counterfeit ballots were introduced into the certified results, it diluted our votes and the votes of all Georgians both within and outside of Fulton County.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of experts Garland Favorito wants to examine images of mail-in ballots from Fulton County, Georgia. He said he wanted about half a dozen experts to evaluate the images.