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Georgia Conducting Secret 2020 Ballot Review—Keeping Plaintiffs in the Dark

After several Fulton County, Ga., poll monitors testified last year that boxes of mail-in ballots for Joe Biden looked liked they’d been run through a photocopy machine, state investigators quietly broke the seal on one suspicious box and inspected the hundreds of votes it contained for signs of fraud, RealClearInvestigations has learned exclusively.

At the same time, a key whistleblower told RCI that state investigators pressured her to recant her story about what she and other poll monitors had observed—what they called unusually “pristine” mail-in ballots while sorting through them during last November’s hand recount.

“I felt I was under investigation,” said Suzi Voyles, a longtime Fulton County poll manager whose sworn affidavits have been used by election watchdogs to sue the county for access to the ballots in question.

Although the ballots are at the center of disputes about the Georgia presidential race, which Joe Biden won by just 12,000 votes, the state never disclosed its probe to the public or to election watchdogs suing to inspect the ballots.

State officials also neglected to inform the judge hearing the lawsuit that they were conducting such an inspection, even though the judge had issued a protective order over the ballots in January. In a nine-page amicus brief recently filed in the case, attorneys for the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urged Superior Court Judge Brian Amero to deny petitioners’ requests to inspect the ballots, calling them a “fishing expedition.”

Frances Watson, chief investigator for the secretary of state’s office, confirmed in a statement to RCI that she sent investigators to Fulton County earlier this year to inspect the batches of sealed ballots. Poll monitors involved in last November’s hand recount had described the mail-in ballots in sworn affidavits as devoid of creases and folds and featuring identically bubbled-in marks for Biden. But the state said it could not find any ballots matching that description.

“Our investigators looked into it and didn’t find anything,” she said, while adding the investigation is “still ongoing.”

The watchdogs question why state officials did not disclose their activities to the court and fear they may have “tampered” with the sealed ballots, which are at the center of their lawsuit seeking access to all 147,000 absentee ballots cast during the 2020 election in Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta.

Led by longtime Georgia poll watcher Garland Favorito, founder of VoterGA.org, the court petitioners say the state has failed to inform the judge overseeing their case that they broke the chain of custody over the pallets of shrink-wrapped absentee ballots warehoused in a locked county facility in Atlanta.

“If the secretary of state’s office did that, they tampered with the ballots and violated Georgia state law,” which restricts the handling of ballots to authorized elections officials involved in the tabulation and care of the ballots, Favorito said. He also noted that Judge Amero had placed the ballots under a protective order in January. “They would have had to ask for a court order to unseal and inspect those ballots and they never did that.”

Raffensperger’s office seemed to acknowledge the ballots were still under seal when it urged Amero to prevent the watchdogs from inspecting the ballots.

“The security and confidentiality of ballots is to be strictly maintained,” attorneys for Raffensperger argued in the brief they filed with Amero in April, “and the court should be cautious in granting petitioners’ access to ballots that Georgia law requires to remain under seal, which makes it a felony as soon as petitioners were to lay hands on them.”

Raffensperger’s office did not respond to questions about why it did not inform the court about its probe, although it acknowledged that this is the first time its inspection of the ballots—which began in early January—has been publicly disclosed. Judge Amero did not respond to requests for comment.

Biden narrowly won Georgia thanks to a late-night tally of absentee ballots in Fulton and other Democratic strongholds. The revelation that state authorities have already unsealed and investigated the ballots in question is a new twist in a case that has seen the firing of poll managers who blew the whistle on the suspicious ballots; a recent breach of security at the warehouse that Fulton County officials were supposed to be guarding around the clock; and an 11th-hour attempt by county officials to dismiss the court-ordered inspection of those ballots—many of which came from Atlanta area drop boxes whose chain of custody documentation has mysteriously turned up missing.

Last month Amero ordered Fulton County to unseal its 147,000 absentee ballots and allow the petitioners to inspect them under certain restrictions, but the county filed a motion to dismiss the case. Amero is expected to rule on the motion later this month.

The issue is further muddied by Suzi Voyles’ allegation, never previously reported, that she was pressured to recant her testimony about the pristine ballots. In sworn affidavits last November, Suzi Voyles said she observed that a large batch of mail-in ballots for Biden did not appear to have been folded or handled like she would have expected from her two decades of working elections in the county. She also said that the marks for Biden were identical, as though they had been filled in by a copying machine rather than a pen or pencil.