ATLANTA (AP) — A judge who last month ordered absentee ballots in Georgia's most populous county to be unsealed as part of a lawsuit alleging fraud during the November election is now set to hear arguments over whether the case should be dismissed.
Originally filed in December, the lawsuit says there is evidence of fraudulent ballots and improper ballot counting in Fulton County. As part of the suit, the nine Georgia voters who filed it are seeking to inspect some 147,000 absentee ballots to determine whether there are illegitimate ballots among them.
The ballots and scanned ballot images are kept under seal in the custody of the clerk of Fulton County Superior and Magistrate courts. Henry County Superior Court Chief Judge Brian Amero, who is presiding over the case, in April ordered the court clerk to release the scanned absentee ballot images. At a hearing last month, Amero ordered that the paper ballots themselves be unsealed so that the petitioners who filed the lawsuit can inspect and scan them.
Amero had scheduled a meeting for May 28 with the parties to sort out the logistics of how that review and scanning of paper ballots would proceed. But in the days before that meeting was to be held, Fulton County, the county board of elections and the county courts clerk all filed motions asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge canceled the logistics meeting, saying those motions needed to be dealt with first and scheduling a hearing that is to happen Monday.
The ballot review effort in Georgia is one of several around the country pushed by supporters of former President Donald Trump and others who allege fraud during the 2020 election. State and federal authorities have repeatedly said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.
There is no chance of this lawsuit changing Georgia's election results, which were certified months ago. After the initial tally and before certification, the state did a full hand recount of the presidential race to satisfy a new audit requirement in state law. Another recount, in which the ballots were run through scanners to be tallied again, was done at the request of Trump's campaign after he lost the state by a narrow margin to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump was furious about his loss by about 12,000 votes in Georgia, long a reliably red state. He and his allies harshly criticized top Republican elected officials in the state for not acting to overturn his loss. They also focused their attention on overwhelmingly Democratic Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta, making repeated claims of widespread election fraud.
Fulton County officials have repeatedly defended their handling of the election and have criticized the ballot review effort.
An independent monitor hired to observe the county's election operations from October through January as part of a consent agreement has said he witnessed sloppy processes and systemic poor management but that there was no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing that should cast doubt on the county's election results.
Garland Favorito, a longtime critic of Georgia's election systems who has promoted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks and about former President Bill Clinton, is spearheading the Georgia lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that election workers and observers who signed sworn statements saw absentee ballots during the audit that weren't creased from being mailed, appeared to be marked by a machine rather than by hand and were printed on different paper. It also repeats a widely circulated claim of fraud based on security video that shows cases of ballots being pulled from under a skirted table and counted while observers and the news media weren't present. And it says proper procedures weren't followed by workers counting ballots by hand during the audit.
Carter Jones, the independent monitor who observed Fulton County's election operations, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he never saw any ballots without creases that appeared to be marked by machine. He said the secretary of state's investigators looked into those claims and found nothing.
The secretary of state's office has repeatedly said that the video showing boxes of ballots being pulled from under a table shows normal ballot processing and that claims that it shows something nefarious are based on selective editing.
The county, election board and court clerk have all argued that the lawsuit is barred by sovereign immunity, a principle that says state and local governments and can only be sued if they agree to it.
Among the election board's other arguments for dismissing the lawsuit is an assertion that there is no claim of an ongoing or imminent dispute that needs to be settled and no claim about potential future conduct that needs to be evaluated by the court. The county argues that the suit should be dismissed for several reasons, including that it is technically an election contest but does not follow the rules to do that and that the voters who filed it have not shown that they have suffered concrete harm.