In a stunning admission about the critical chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes in the November 3, 2020 election, a Fulton County election official told The Georgia Star News on Wednesday that “a few forms are missing” and that “some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced.”
A Star News analysis of drop box ballot transfer forms for absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes provided by Fulton County in response to an Open Records Request showed that 385 transfer forms out of an estimated 1,565 transfer forms Fulton County said should have been provided are missing – a number that is significantly greater than “a few” by any objective standard.
This is the first time that any election official at either the state or county level from a key battleground state has made an admission of significant error in election procedures for the November 3, 2020 election.
The admission of missing chain of custody documents by a Fulton County official is important for several reasons that cut to the very core of public confidence in the outcome of the 2020 presidential election:
- President Biden was certified as the winner of Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes in the 2020 election by the narrow margin of less than 12,000 votes over former President Donald Trump out of a total of 5 million votes cast statewide.
- The total number of absentee ballots whose chain of custody was purportedly documented in these 385 missing Fulton County absentee ballot transfer forms was 18,901, more than 6,000 votes greater than the less than 12,000 vote margin of Biden’s certified victory in the state.
- Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has taken no action in 156 of Georgia’s 159 counties to secure copies of any absentee ballot drop box transfer forms and review them for accuracy and consistency with reported absentee ballot vote counts. In April his office announced investigations into three small counties that “failed to do their absentee ballot transfer forms” in the November 2020 election in compliance with rules and regulations.
- More than seven months after the November 3 election, 28 Georgia counties have failed to respond at all to The Star News Open Records Requests to produce absentee ballot drop box transfer forms. To date, The Star News has obtained absentee ballot drop box forms from 59 counties that provide chain of custody documentation for 266,492 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes during the November 3, 2020 election, which means that no chain of custody documentation has been produced for about 333,000 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes out of an estimated 600,000 absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes during that election.
- As The Star News reported on Sunday, “These absentee ballots are at the center of a lawsuit filed by Garland Favorito and eight other Georgia residents, who have sued Fulton County to produce these ballots for a forensic audit. Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero ruled in May that this audit could proceed, but allowed the plaintiffs to review only the digital images of these 145,000 absentee ballots. . . An estimated 145,000 absentee ballots – between 75,000 and 78,000 of which were originally deposited in drop boxes and between 67,000 and 70,000 of which were sent via the United States Postal Service – were transferred from the centralized counting facility at the State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta to the EPC [the Election Preparation Center warehouse located at 1365 English St. NW, Atlanta] at some point after the counting of votes for the November 3 election was completed. . . Fulton County subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and Judge Amero put the audit on hold. Judge Amero has scheduled a hearing later this month to consider Fulton County’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and stop the audit.”
The admission of missing chain of custody documents came as a response to The Star News follow-up to Fulton County’s incomplete responses to Open Records Requests for the transfer forms that document the chain of custody of absentee ballots placed by voters into 37 drop boxes installed through Fulton County over the 41-day November 2020 presidential election period that began on September 24 and ended on November 3, election day.
“As we review the documents provided to you and our daily log. We noticed that a few forms are missing, it seems when 25 plus core personnel were quarantined due to positive COVID-19 outbreak at the EPC, some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced,” Mariska Bodison (pictured above) of Fulton County Registration & Elections told The Star News in a statement emailed on Wednesday, June 9.
Ms. Bodison is the Board Secretary for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections. Richard Barron is the Election Director for Fulton County Registration & Elections.
Seven months after the election, Fulton County has failed to provide the transfer forms for approximately 19,000 drop box absentee ballots, The Star News has reported.
The transfer forms are a requirement of the State Election Board Emergency Rule 83-1-14-0.8-.14, promulgated by the State Election Board on July 1, 2020, to document the critical chain of custody of absentee ballots collected from drop boxes and transferred to the county registrar.
The Star News made an initial open records request to Fulton County election officials in December 2020 and subsequent follow-up requests to obtain all of the transfer forms. On two occasions, Fulton County provided numerous documents.
The first time, in February 2021, Fulton County provided two PDF files with labels ending in “BX1” and BX3.”
Not only did it appear that a file with a label ending in “BX2” was missing, the number of ballots represented on the transfer forms fell far short of the estimated number of ballots deposited in the drop boxes.
The Star News followed up with Fulton County, pointing out the incomplete records.
Fulton County responded in early May by opting to provide a thumb drive they said included a re-scan all of the documents from their first attempt plus those that were missing, rather than providing the “BX2” file or just the missing transfer forms.
The thumb drive contained 30 files of drop box transfer forms, and also also included a spreadsheet that Fulton County used to document the number of absentee ballots and the ballot applications collected from the 37 drop boxes over the 41-day voting period. According to that spreadsheet, those 30 files should have contained 1,565 drop box transfer forms.
The Star News’s detailed analysis of the files provided by Fulton County revealed that they included only 1,180 drop box transfer forms provided chain of custody documents for 59,042 absentee ballots placed into drop boxes.
Yet, the Fulton County spreadsheet showed that about 79,000 absentee ballots were collected from drop boxes (When a mathematical error in the Fulton County spreadsheet that double counted a number of votes is corrected, the total number of absentee ballots Fulton County says were collected from drop boxes is about 75,000.)
On May 17, The Star News notified Fulton County via email that transfer forms for about 25 percent of the absentee ballots placed into drop boxes where chain of custody documentation in the form of 385 drop box transfer forms were still missing.
The Star News’ email to Fulton County can be read here:
Dear Fulton County,
We are in receipt of a thumb drive which we picked up in person from your office on May 3, 2021 that contains scans of documents responsive to our Open Records Request Reference No: R002457-040821 for chain of custody ballot transfer forms for absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes in Fulton County for the November 3 election.
We have reviewed those documents, and it appears that you provided documentation for about 59,000 ballots. The accompanying spreadsheet you provided – a file named “Copy of Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020.xlsx” – said there were about 78,000 ballots cast in the November 3, 2020 election.
(1) Provide us with the “missing” documentation on these 19,000 ballots
(2) Explain the discrepancy
The Georgia Star News
After initially replying that they needed more time to review the request, Fulton County responded on June 9, which included the stunning admission of the misplaced paperwork.
As we review the documents provided to you and our daily log. We noticed that a few forms are missing, it seems when 25 plus core personnel were quarantined due to positive COVID-19 outbreak at the EPC, some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced.
Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.
Registration & Elections
On October 15, Fox 5 Atlanta reported on the COVID-19 outbreak at the Fulton County Elections Preparation Center (EPC), located at 1365 English St. NW, Atlanta, where 13 of 60 employees tested positive between October 13 and 15.
People who work in the warehouse are involved with logic and accuracy testing, packing supply boxes and collecting ballot drop boxes, according to the Fox 5 report.
The report, however, appears to contradict what Fulton County election officials are now saying, in terms of the numbers of employees quarantined and the impact to the work.
“Despite the news, county officials reassure there is no disruption to the work,” Fox 5 reported.
In fact, Fulton County Director of Registration and Elections Richard Barron said, “Processing absentee ballots. No there has been no delay. With regard to logic and accuracy testing, the only delay was probably yesterday when they were getting tested.”
On October 21, Barron told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that all of the staff working at the EPC had been moved to work out of the World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Fulton County’s emailed response to The Star News also seems to downplay the importance of the chain of custody documents by referring to the transfer forms as “procedural paperwork.”
Even though Fulton County officials first agreed that forms were missing, they then went on to disagree with the numbers The Star News presented to them.
We do not agree with the 19,000 you referenced in your inquiry. Please advise at how you derived at this number and we will investigate.
As The Star News reported, using the Fulton County spreadsheet as a guide, at least 385 transfer forms providing chain of custody documentation for 18,901 ballots have yet to be provided by Fulton County.
In addition to random absentee ballot collections for which the transfer forms were not provided, there were at least five full days – October 7, 9, 10, 11 and 20 – for which no transfer forms have been provided. Four of those dates were before the COVID-19 quarantine cited by the Fulton County election official as the cause for the “misplaced paperwork.”
This copy of the Fulton County spreadsheet, which The Star News has highlighted in yellow, shows the 385 drop box collections and associated 18,901 absentee ballots for which no transfer forms have been provided by Fulton County.
Further information on the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms provided by Fulton County is detailed in a spreadsheet compiled and reported on by The Star News here.
In April, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that just three small Georgia counties–Coffee, Grady, and Taylor –“failed to do their absentee ballot transfer forms” in compliance with Georgia Rules and Regulations. Raffensperger’s office made no effort to review the manner in which several other much larger counties that The Star News previously reported were in violation of the State Election Board’s Emergency Code Rule; specifically Cobb County, DeKalb County and Fulton County.
Raffensperger’s spokesman, Ari Schaffer, however, admitted to The Star News that the Secretary of State’s office never looked at the chain of custody documents, they merely “confirmed with the relevant counties that they had them.”
Earlier this month, the Georgia GOP convention censured Secretary of State Raffensperger for “dereliction of his Constitutional duty.” That dereliction of duty included, “Undermining the security of our elections by allowing mass mailings of absentee applications by his office and third parties which created opportunities for fraud and overwhelmed election offices; rendering accurate signature matching nearly impossible; allowing ballot drop boxes without proper chain of custody; and ignoring sworn affidavits and disregarding evidence of voter fraud,” (emphasis added).