Georgia Public Broadcasting (GBP) News, part of the taxpayer-funded network of state PBS television stations and NPR radio stations, reported on Wednesday, June 16 that they received from Fulton County all but eight of the 385 missing absentee ballot drop box transfer forms The Georgia Star News has reported on.
After six months and several open records requests, 385 of the 1,565 transfer forms that Fulton County says, a spreadsheet provided to The Star News, document the chain of custody of absentee ballots deposited in drop boxes and transferred to the county registrar during the November 3, 2020, election have still not been provided to The Star News.
GPB News reportedly made their request to Fulton County on June 14, the same day that The Star News released the stunning news that a Fulton County election official admitted that “a few forms are missing” and that “some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced” in the critical chain of custody documents for absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes in the November election.
The Star News report revealed that our analysis of the drop box transfer forms provided by Fulton County in response to open records requests showed that 385 transfer forms were missing out of an estimated 1,565 transfer forms Fulton County’s own documentation said they should have provided.
The detailed analysis compared 1,180 transfer forms for about 59,000 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes to a Fulton County-supplied spreadsheet that tracked the daily count of absentee ballots collected from 37 drop boxes over the 41-day 2020 election period.
The missing 385 transfer forms are the chain of custody documents required by State Board of Election Emergency Rule 83-1-1-14-0.8-.14 promulgated in July 2020 and correspond to, according to the Fulton County daily count spreadsheet, 18,901 absentee ballots from drop boxes.
The missing chain of custody documentation represents about 25 percent of the absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes in Fulton County during the November 2020 election period.
According to GPB News, “after GPB News asked the [Fulton] county Monday about the forms not included in the Georgia Star’s records request, elections staff located all but eight of the more than 1,500 forms,” and “provided them to GPB News on a flash drive.”
In its June 16 article, GPB News did not publish any digital images of the “more than 1,500 [transfer] forms” it says were on the flash drive provided to it by Fulton County on June 14.
On June 13, The Star News published digital images of all 1,180 transfer forms received from Fulton County on a thumb drive on May 3.
The Star News requested digital images of all 385 missing transfer forms from Fulton County in one email sent on May 17, and another sent on June 18 (see image of that email and Fulton County’s response below). Fulton County has not provided The Star News with those requested digital images as of 10 p.m. ET June 18.
June 18, 2021 Emails between The Georgia Star News and Fulton County:
The full explanation of how The Star News determined that 385 chain of custody documents were missing was included in a June 14 report. And, the details of the compilation of the more than 21,000 pieces of drop box collection data were published in a separate June 14 report by The Star News.
On May 17, The Star News notified Fulton County via email that 385 transfer forms for 18,901 absentee ballots, according to their own documentation, were missing from the thumb drive that was picked up on May 3, and two files from January 22, with file names ending in “BX1” and “BX3.”
Secretary for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections Mariska Bodison acknowledged in her email reply dated June 9, that the forms were missing. Bodison, however, disagreed with the 19,000 absentee ballots and asked how the number was derived so that they could investigate further.
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.
According to GPB News, they asked Fulton County on June 14 – the day of The Star News report – “about the forms not included in the Georgia Star’s request.”
Between Monday, June 14, and their report of Wednesday, June 16 at 2:46 p.m., GPB News says Fulton County fulfilled their records request for the transfer forms.
“[E]lections staff located all but eight of the more than 1,500 forms” and “provided them to GPB News on a flash drive,” said the GPB News report.
Fulton County also reportedly sent the transfer forms to state investigators, according to GPB News.
Meanwhile, The Star News’s requests still remain unfulfilled by Fulton County.
The GPB News report also states that “Fulton elections director Rick Barron said in an elections board meeting [June 17] that staff spent more than 200 hours this week locating the forms, to counter the claims of ‘missing’ forms.”
Notably, the “missing” transfer forms was not just a claim, but acknowledged to The Star News by the Fulton County Elections Board Secretary.
In order to enable the GPB News report of June 16, Fulton County elections officials would have had to supply GPB News with the “missing” transfer forms within about a 48-hour period between their June 14 request and their June 16 report.
Fulton County Elections Director Barron said Thursday in an Elections Board meeting, according to the GPB News report, that more than 200 hours were invested during the week to locate the forms that GPB News said they were in receipt of by the time of their report.
Working 200 hours over a 48-hour period equates to more than 4 staff people working around the clock, 24 hours per day or 12 staff people working eight-hour shifts over the two days to find the missing 377 transfer forms of the more than 1,500 forms that GPB News says they now have. The number 377 reflects the 385 transfer forms The Star News identified as missing minus the “all but eight” transfer forms GPB News says they received from Fulton County.
According to an uncoverdc.com report, Barron requested compensation funds for a not-to-exceed amount of $7,744,880 to cover salaries of Fulton County temporary staff working on post 2020-2021 election activities – including open records requests. The regular time bill rate for the workers starts at $15.00 per hour, translating to at least $3,000 being expended for the 200 hours workers spent on finding 378 chain of custody documents.
A 48-hour turnaround in Fulton County’s locating of missing transfer forms would also not afford GPB News any time to analyze the supplied documentation, as The Star News did, so that any blank sheets, cover sheets or duplicated transfer forms were not counted.
The GPB News report raises questions about the expedient response they received from Fulton County election officials compared to that of The Star News for our open records requests.
On Friday, June 18, The Star News sent an email to Fulton County Elections Board Secretary Bodison with several requests based on the GPB News report and related to the apparent differences in Fulton County’s handling of the open records requests from the two news outlets.
Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) reported Wednesday, June 16, 2021, that “after GPB News asked the [Fulton] county Monday about the forms not included in the Georgia Star’s records request, elections staff located all but 8 of the more than 1,500 forms” and “provided them to GPB News on a flash drive.”
The Georgia Star News requests your response to the following requests.
A) Provide to The Georgia Star News the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms that were provided to Georgia Public Broadcasting that have not yet been provided to The Georgia Star News.
B) An explanation as to why the previously “missing” absentee ballot drop box transfer forms were provided to Georgia Public Broadcasting within 48 hours of their request on Monday, June 14, 2021, but not to The Georgia Star News, despite the incomplete responses to our three open records requests dating back to December 2020.
C) An explanation as to why GPB was able to receive from Fulton County within 48 hours of their request on Monday, June 14, 2021, the same records that The Georgia Star News initially requested in December 2020 and has received from Fulton County three incomplete responses.
In addition, The Star News provided Bodison with a detailed response to her June 9, 2021, inquiry as to how The Star News derived at 19,000 absentee ballots for the 385 missing drop box transfer forms.
With regard to the 19,000 absentee ballots for which the drop box transfer forms are missing, the number was derived from the documentation Fulton County previously provided in person on May 03, 2021, via a thumb drive.
Included on the thumb drive was an Excel spreadsheet file titled “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020.xlsx”
The Georgia Star News compared the transfer forms Fulton County provided on the May 03, 2021, thumb drive as well as the two files Fulton County provided on January 22, 2021, titled “ORR_7528-2020_DROP_BX1” and “ORR_7528-2020_DROP_BX3” to the Fulton County spreadsheet.
The Georgia Star News marked up the Fulton County “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020.xlsx” spreadsheet, highlighting in yellow each date and drop box location for which The Georgia Star News did not receive at least one corresponding absentee ballot transfer form.
The Georgia Star News’ highlighted version of the spreadsheet, titled “Copy of Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020.xlsx,” is attached.
On rows 57 and 58 you will find the total number of transfer forms that are missing and the corresponding number of absentee ballots that Fulton County indicates were deposited into the specific drop boxes on those dates.
According to the information Fulton County provided via the “Absentee Ballot Drop Box – Daily Count – November 3 2020.xlsx” spreadsheet, at least 385 absentee ballot drop box transfer forms are missing, which Fulton County indicates represents 18,901 absentee ballots deposited into drop boxes.
We hope that this explanation of Fulton County’s information will assist in your investigation of the missing absentee ballot drop box chain of custody documentation so that you may promptly fulfill our Open Records Requests.
The Star News requested a response from Fulton County by end of business Monday, June 21.
While the GPB News report concludes with “context” about the “claims” of missing documents and their “messengers,” making a connection to a court hearing scheduled for Monday, June 21, 2021, The Star News analysis of the absentee ballot drop box transfer forms has nothing to do with an inspection of the actual or scanned copies of the absentee ballots.
The Star News’ open records requests for the absentee ballot drop box chain of custody documents were made to all of Georgia’s 159 counties and have been reported on since December 10, 2020.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter with The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star and The Georgia Star News.
Photo “Georgia Public Broadcasting building” by Daniel Mayer. CC BY-SA 3.0.