Fulton County, Georgia, is receiving national scrutiny over a series of election mishaps, failures, and inconsistencies.
Fulton, the state’s most populous county and home to Atlanta, has experienced a relatively high amount of dysfunction this election cycle, from server failures to poor decisions. The chaos surrounding the county’s election procedures has sparked allegations of voter fraud and misconduct from state GOP officials, top lawmakers, and the Trump campaign.
Fulton’s consistent missteps earned criticism from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Tuesday.
“The real issue is a Fulton County employee made several compounding errors,” Raffensperger said the day before results were due for the second state recount of votes. “Instead of following the procedures that my office and the vendor laid out, Fulton County once again cut corners.”
“Us and our office, and I think the rest of the state, is getting a little tired of always having to wait on Fulton County and always having to put up with their dysfunction,” he continued. “They can still make it by our midnight Wednesday deadline, but they seem to want to make it a dramatic finish.”
Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chair Rob Pitts pushed back against criticism of the county’s handling of the election on Thursday. Pitts insisted that, despite the problems, if he were grading the county’s performance, he would give it an “A-plus.”
“I can tell you that beyond a shadow of a doubt there’s been no instance of any unusual activity within Fulton County,” Pitts added, denying the allegations of voter fraud. “Has there been a situation from time to time where there’s an issue with technology? Yes. Has there been a situation from time to time where there may be human error? But as far as an orchestrated effort to manipulate votes in Fulton County, that’s not the case. I have challenged anyone who has made those allegations to come forward.”
Below is a compilation of Fulton’s most publicized election mishaps.
Election Day: Leak delays vote counting
At around 6 a.m. on election day, a toilet began leaking in State Farm Arena where election officials had set up ballot counting operations, threatening to flood a room full of ballots.
“It looked really like there was rain coming out of the ceiling and the entire carpeting was just covered in water,” Fulton elections supervisor Richard Barron said later.
The problem took about two hours to fix and delayed the then-ongoing counting of absentee mail ballots. No ballots were damaged by the leak.
Election Day: Late-night “suitcase” ballots
Arguably the most controversial event of Georgia’s election is a now-public video of election workers allegedly bringing out “suitcases” full of ballots to count late at night after GOP election observers had left the arena. The scene took place on the night of Nov. 3 and has been the subject of controversy since and sparked a state investigation. Security camera footage of the scene went public on Thursday during a hearing with the Georgia Senate’s Government Oversight Committee.
“Allegations and corresponding video appear to reveal a Fulton County election supervisor pulling suitcases filled with ballots from under a table after poll workers were allegedly told to leave,” The Daily Wire reports. “These claims were later denied by Georgia’s voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling and chief investigator for the Georgia secretary of state Frances Watson. The officials claim the video is not suspicious but shows normal procedure.”
Despite assurances from Sterling and Watson, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp said the video was “concerning” and called for a signature audit of Georgia’s election results. Kemp also said that the public should hear from the state’s independent monitor for Fulton County, Carter Jones, who officials say was present the entire time ballots were being counted.
According to state investigators, the controversy stemmed from poor instructions and a misunderstanding between Fulton election officials and the GOP election observers. As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month:
As for monitors being told to go home: There was confusion about when workers processing absentee-by-mail ballots at State Farm Arena would stop. Fulton officials said work would stop at 10:30 p.m. on Election Night.
Though quickly criticized by the county chairman, Barron said he sent almost all of his staff home because some were tired to the point of being “counter-productive.” And so GOP observers left because they thought counting was done for the night. But five county workers stayed to process more ballots until 1 a.m.
Sterling said investigators had pulled video footage from that night to determine what happened. Officials have said the state’s independent monitor was there to witness counting.
During the Senate hearing Thursday, attorney Jacki Pick gave a differing account of the evening.
“According to the witnesses, the Republican observers, there is a lady who has blonde braids who comes out to announce we’re going to stop counting, everyone go home,” Pick said. “And, in fact, we see that’s what happens is everyone clears out, including the Republican observers and the press, but four people stay behind and continue counting and tabulating well into the night … And they will continue counting unobserved, unsupervised not in public view as your statute requires, until about 1 in the morning.”
Nov. 7: Hundreds of ballots rescanned over reporting “issue”
On the Saturday following election day, Raffensperger put out a statement over Facebook that he had dispatched investigators to Fulton County over a reporting “issue” at State Farm Arena.
“Fulton County has discovered an issue involving reporting from their work on Friday. Officials are at State Farm Arena to rescan their work from Friday,” Raffensperger said. “The Secretary of State has a monitor onsite, has sent additional investigators, and dispatched the Deputy Secretary of State as well to oversee the process to make sure to thoroughly secure the vote and protect all legal votes. Observers from both political parties are there as well.”
Fulton County officials later clarified that they believed some ballots scanned on Friday were not counted in the system, and so as a precaution they rescanned “all provisional, military and UOCAVA” ballots on Saturday that were originally processed the day before.
Nov. 29: Dominion server crash delays recount
A mobile server for Dominion Voting Systems crashed on Nov. 29, delaying a second recount in Fulton County as officials brought in a technician to fix the problem. The problem was fixed and counting restarted the following day.
Dec. 1: “Hundreds of thousands” of ballots rescanned because of human error
Several days after the Dominion server crash, Raffensperger ripped into Fulton County officials over an apparent error by one election worker to not back up “hundreds of thousands” of ballots on an external hard drive. At the time, Fulton election workers were working to finish a second recount of votes by the deadline the next day.
“Instead of following the procedures that my office and the vendor laid out, Fulton County once again cut corners. The biggest one being [the employee] backed up the election project on the server itself instead of on an external backup. Because of that decision, they lost the ability to upload hundreds of thousands of scanned ballots,” Raffensperger said.
Dec. 2: Fulton election workers rescan 12,000 ballots after “technical problems”
“Unexplained technical problems” with Fulton County’s recount caused election workers to rescan 12,000 ballots on the day of the deadline to report results of the second state-wide recount. GOP election observers rushed to the Georgia World Congress Center to monitor the last-minute rescanning after being notified.
Investigations into voter fraud
Amid Fulton County’s numerous errors, mishaps, and allegations of voter fraud, state investigators have been probing other allegations of election fraud, some of which allegedly occurred in Fulton County.
“We have multiple investigations underway surrounding absentee ballots in Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, and many others. We continue our investigations into potential dead, double voters, and non-resident voters,” Raffensperger said during a Nov. 30 press conference. “As we move to the December 1st election, which is tomorrow, and the January 5th federal runoffs, we have to remain vigilant.”