Last Updated on December 7, 2020
A widely-shared “debunking” by left-wing fact-checker Lead Stories, quoting top Georgia election officials, claims to disprove allegations of voter fraud surrounding a viral video of Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss counting votes late at night while unsupervised at the State Farm Arena vote counting center in Atlanta, Georgia. But Lead Stories’ “fact check” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
The “Hoax Alert” published by Lead Stories was followed by a slew of other articles by mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post, Newsweek and Fox News.
However, an investigation by National File demonstrated that their work relied on wildly contradictory statements by Georgia election officials, misleading statements about Georgia law and blatant mischaracterizations of eyewitness testimony.
The viral video put out by President Trump’s legal team shows:
- Ballot containers resembling suitcases were hidden under a table at 8:22 a.m. on Election Day
- At roughly 10:30 p.m., partisan and independent vote watchers left the building
- At 10:57 p.m., election officials removed the containers from underneath the tablecloth
- Those election officials counted ballots from those containers for roughly two hours
Georgia Code § 21-2-483 mandates that counting of ballots as was done in Fulton County “shall be open to the view of the public” and that poll watchers must be allowed access. More broadly, Georgia Code § 21-2-406 statute requires that: “Superintendents, poll officers, and other officials engaged in the conducting of primaries and elections held under this chapter shall perform their duties in public.”
In other words, any vote counting in Georgia taking place without the required access to the public and to independent poll watchers would be illegal. This would hold true even assuming the ballots were completely legitimate – and we only have the often-contradictory word of election officials to corroborate that.
Here are the claims in the Lead Stories “fact check”, easily debunked by National File:
CLAIM ONE: The bags shown were “regular ballot containers” and not “suitcases”
FACT CHECK: IRRELEVANT The containers showed on the video, distinct from other ballot containers, were hidden underneath a table for the majority of Election Day and removed after poll watchers left the building.
CLAIM TWO: “The media and party observers were never told to leave because counting was over for the night”
FACT CHECK: FALSE This claim relies on dubious statements by Frances Watson, Chief Investigator for the Office of the Georgia Secretary of State:
Nobody told them to stay. Nobody told them to leave. Nobody gave them any advice on what they should do. And It was still open for them or the public to come back in to view at whatever time they wanted to, as long as they were still working.
In an affidavit filed Sunday, Watson claimed further:
Our investigation discovered that observers and media were not asked to leave. They simply left on their own when they saw one group of workers, whose job was only to open envelopes and who had completed that task, also leave.
This claim is implausible on its face: that in the most-watched county in Georgia on Election Night in an election preemptively plagued by broad allegations of massive fraud, every single independent partisan and press poll watcher would – simultaneously and of their own accord – decide to leave the vote counting center just before votes were actually being counted.
It is also refuted by a statement made to ABC News on Election Night by Regina Waller, the Fulton County press officer who was present at the State Farm Arena counting center.
NEW: The election department sent the ballot counters at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta home at 10:30 p.m., Regina Waller, the Fulton County public affairs manager for elections, tells ABC News. https://t.co/HgCtcXEka3
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) November 4, 2020
Local NBC reporters on-site at the time also confirmed that “they were told counting was done for the night” and that “media and the party monitors were not given notice that counting would continue into the early morning hours and they should have been.”
- The counting center supervisor – identified by National File as Shaye Moss – at approximately 10:30PM “yelled to everyone to stop working and to return the next day at 8:30AM”
- Remaining workers were “sanitizing the tables and tablecloths” and sending emails
- Regina Waller refused to give poll watchers a count of the ballots processed or the number of ballots remaining to be counted
- The poll watchers “were then told to return to the Fulton County Board of Elections Warehouse”
Given the facts alleged, Lead Stories came to the extremely counter-intuitive conclusion: “GOP Observers Did NOT Swear In Affidavits They Were Told To Leave Fulton County, Georgia, Vote Count Center On Election Night”.
If the Lead Stories articles are to be believed, then:
- Fulton County election officials stopped all ballot-related work at roughly 10:30PM
- Remaining workers were doing cleanup work and sending emails until the last poll watcher had left, at which point they immediately started counting ballots
- They did not inform anyone else that counting would recommence at 11PM
- Waller gave a false statement to ABC News the same night saying that ballot counters had been sent home
- Every poll watcher and journalist who confirmed that they had been ushered out was lying
- Somehow this the above is not a violation of Georgia law that “officials engaged in the conducting of primaries and elections held under this chapter shall perform their duties in public”
CLAIM THREE: “Georgia law allows observers, but does not require them to be there for ballots to be counted”
FACT CHECK: FALSE This statement relies on weasel wording. Georgia law does not “allow” nor “require” poll watchers to observe the count. Georgia law requires that poll watchers and indeed all members of the public be afforded the right to do so. In fact, Georgia law specifically requires that election work be done in public.
If poll watchers were barred from observing the count because they were explicitly denied access or because the count was done in secret, then that would be a direct violation of Georgia law.
CLAIM FOUR: “A state election board monitor, who asked for his name not to be used due to safety concerns, told Lead Stories on the phone on December 3, 2020, that he was present at the vote counting location beginning at 11:52 p.m., after leaving briefly at earlier in the evening. He then stayed until about 12:45 a.m., when the work that night was completed.”
FACT CHECK: IRRELEVANT As their own article stated, the presence of a state monitor who “took a break” does not legitimize the counting of ballots. Ballot counting is only legitimate under Georgia law when conducted in public and with access given to election observers.
In fact, this claim raises additional questions about the suspicious conduct of election officials. Local reporter Stephen Fowler, in a tweet claiming that there was nothing suspicious about the viral video, identified the state monitor as “that guy in the blue jacket”.
A review of the 11PM security footage shows a man wearing a blue jacket in a separate room from the vote counters collecting his backpack and leaving. Why would the state monitor leave the facility exactly when the count started and only return nearly an hour afterwards?
Local investigative reporter Justin Gray from WSB-TV 2 explains:
Media and observers left as employees packed up. But Fulton’s election director called a supervisor at State Farm a few minutes later, telling them to keep counting after the Secretary of State’s office called and said they shouldn’t stop counting for the night so early.
After that call, employees pulled the containers of ballots back out and went back to work.
Gray spent the day on Friday with Georgia election officials who insisted that nothing nefarious occurred. They also told him explicitly that all work had stopped and workers were sent home, but that counting resumed after election officials changed their minds. At no point did they inform the poll watchers that this was taking place.
This directly contradicts the sworn affidavit of Georgia’s lead election investigator and corroborates the Election Night statement of Regina Waller to ABC News that counters had been sent home. It also corroborates statements by NBJ journalists that they’d been told that “counting was over for the night”.
Finally, this also corroborates what National File reported on Friday: Georgia state election officials admitted to Georgia’s GOP Chair that unlawful and secret ballot counting took place on Election Day in Fulton County.
It is worth noting that just because massive illegal counting took place does not mean that fraud necessarily took place. However, the statements by Georgia election officials – including sworn testimony and on-the-record statements to the press – are so contradictory that they are impossible to reconcile into a believable narrative.
It stands to reason, then, that protestations by Georgia officials that no fraud took place are simply not credible.
Their claims are especially dubious in light of National File’s exclusive analysis documenting a nationwide crash in absentee ballot rejection rates and showing that an honest audit of the results could easily flip the election to President Trump:
Georgia alone went from rejecting 6.4% in 2016, to rejecting 3.1% in 2018 to rejecting just 0.2% in 2020. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, is being sued for entering into an allegedly illegal deal with Democrats governing the handling of the absentee ballots.