STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
By Alan Duke and Hallie Golden
Does security camera video show a Fulton County, Georgia, election supervisor suspiciously pulling suitcases filled with ballots from under a table after telling poll workers to leave the room? And did that election official continue to illegally count ballots without required monitors in a manner that calls into question Joe Biden's narrow win over Donald Trump in Georgia? No, those claim are not true: Two high-level officials with the Georgia secretary of state's office and a state elections board monitor each told Lead Stories that their investigations revealed nothing suspicious in the video. The officials said the ballots seen in the video were in regular ballot containers -- not suitcases -- and they had been removed from their envelopes and processed while news media and election observers for the Republican Party and Trump campaign were present. The media and party observers were never told to leave because counting was over for the night, but they apparently followed workers who left once their job of opening envelopes was completed, the chief investigator for the secretary of state told Lead Stories. The observers were free to return at anytime, she said. Georgia law allows observers, but does not require them to be there for ballots to be counted, she said.
The claims made at a Georgia state senate hearing by a Trump lawyer appeared in a video posted on YouTube on December 3, 2020, BY Trump's campaign titled "Video from GA shows suitcases filled with ballots pulled from under a table AFTER poll workers left" (archived here). The video description read:
WATCH: Video footage from #Georgia shows suitcases filled with ballots pulled from under a table AFTER supervisors told poll workers to leave room and 4 people stayed behind to keep counting votes
Click below to watch the video on YouTube:
The Epoch Times reported the false claims in an article titled Georgia State Farm Arena Footage Shows Poll Workers Staying Behind, Pulling Out Suitcases With Ballots published on December 3, 2020. It opened:
President Donald Trump's legal team on Thursday presented surveillance footage to a Georgia State Legislature hearing that appears to show election ballot-counting workers kicking out poll observers late at night on Election Day before pulling out suitcases allegedly filled with ballots.
A woman who identified herself as Jackie Pick, a lawyer who is assisting with their legal case, said the team received video footage from State Farm Arena's vote-tabulation center in Fulton County, Georgia. The team said that GOP poll watchers were not allowed to watch the counting process in the poll center.
But, according to Pick, an unusual occurrence took place later in the evening at around 10 p.m. ET. A woman--described as a blonde woman with braids--told workers to stop counting and told everyone to go home.
"Everyone clears out, including the Republican observers and the press, but four people stay behind and continue counting and tabulating well into the night," Pick said. They counted unobserved until about 1 a.m.
Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and Georgia's voting system implementation manager, told Lead Stories during a phone call on December 3, 2020 that what can be seen on the video is normal procedure and nothing looks "bizarre or odd."
Election workers known as "cutters" because their job was to open absentee ballot envelopes and verify ballots for eventual scanning and counting were dismissed for the night sometime after 10 p.m. on November 3, 2020, because their work for the evening had been completed, he explained. Those workers who remained were responsible for conducting the scanning portion of the process, since ballots could not be left without being scanned overnight. He said:
If you look at the video tape, the work you see is the work you would expect, which is you take the sealed suitcase looking things in, you place the ballots on the scanner in manageable batches and you scan them.
Frances Watson, chief investigator for the Georgia secretary of state, told Lead Stories during a phone call on December 3, 2020, that the ballots were in standard containers, and the work during the time in question had nothing to do with pulling ballots from under a table. She said:
There wasn't a bin that had ballots in it under that table. It was an empty bin and the ballots from it were actually out on the table when the media were still there, and then it was placed back into the box when the media were still there and placed next to the table.
There was never an announcement made to the media and other observers about the counting being over for the night and them needing to leave, according to Watson, who was provided information by the media liaison, who was present. She said they just followed the "cutters" as they left.
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 addition, she explained that the only ballots that were scanned after the media and other observers had left were those that had already been opened in front of these observers.
Contrary to the claim, the ballots were not in suitcases, she said. The black boxes and bins seen in the video are the standard container used for the ballot counting process.
Watson's statements to Lead Stories are similar to what the investigator said in a sworn affidavit submitted two days later in a court case involving an effort to over turn the election. Read that affidavit here.
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.
The deputy chief investigator for the secretary of state's office was present beginning at 12:15 a.m. November 4, he said.
The election monitor also told Lead Stories that between 8 p.m. on November 3, 2020, and 12:43 a.m. on November 4, 2020, the scanners had scanned about 10,000 ballots.
According to the Georgia Secretary of State's office, Biden received 2,474,507 votes, while Trump received 2,461,837 -- a winning margin of 12,670 votes for Biden.
Sterling said when he looked at the results, "there was nothing abnormal in the distribution of votes."
Section § 21-2-408 of the Code Of Georgia, which addresses poll watchers, explains that political bodies and parties are "entitled" to have official poll watchers. The secretary of state's chief counsel told Lead Stories it was not a requirement that observers be present for counting to continue -- only that it is their right to be there is they choose.
2020-12-07T16:24:19Z 2020-12-07T16:24:19ZAdded a link to Investigator Frances Watson's sworn affidavit
2020-12-05T07:54:41Z 2020-12-05T07:54:41ZAn earlier version of this story included a hypothetical scenario mathematically estimating the maximum possible impact on the vote count. This example has been removed because it contained faulty math. We regret the mistake but since it was a hypothetical it does not alter the conclusion of this fact check.
2020-12-04T13:20:37Z 2020-12-04T13:20:37ZUpdated the image caption from "Not Suspicious" to "Legal Counting" because our headline already covers the "suspiciously" part and the caption now provides more information.