Fact Check: Fulton County Did NOT Defy Court Order Against Blocking Credentialed Republican Poll Monitors From Viewing Absentee Ballots In Georgia U.S. Senate Runoff

Fact Check

  • by: Olivera Perkins
Fact Check: Fulton County Did NOT Defy Court Order Against Blocking Credentialed Republican Poll Monitors From Viewing Absentee Ballots In Georgia U.S. Senate Runoff Obeyed Order

Did the Fulton County Board of Elections defy a judge's order to remove barriers that prevented credentialed Republican poll monitors from viewing absentee ballots in the Senate runoff election in Georgia? No, that's not true: In a January 6, 2021, email to Lead Stories, Richard Barron, director of the Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration, wrote that the board had complied with the judge's order. In a January 6, 2021, news conference, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's voting system implementation manager, outlined the ways Fulton County had complied with the order, including removing physical barriers.

The claim appeared in an article published by The Gateway Pundit January 6, 2021, on thegatewaypundit.com titled "Fulton County Blocks Credentialed Republican Poll Monitors From Overseeing Absentee Ballots and Verifying Signatures Despite Court Order" (archived here) which opened:

The Georgia twin senate runoff is going the way we expected. The Democrats are going for the steal by any means necessary. Poll observers in Fulton County on Tuesday were being blocked by barriers. Single individuals were scanning and adjudicating ballots without Republican observers at the World Congress Center. The Fulton County Republican Party took...

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Fulton County Blocks Credentialed Republican Poll Monitors From Overseeing Absentee Ballots and Verifying Signatures Despite Court Order

The Georgia twin senate runoff is going the way we expected. The Democrats are going for the steal by any means necessary. Poll observers in Fulton County on Tuesday were being blocked by barriers. Single individuals were scanning and adjudicating ballots without Republican observers at the World Congress Center. The Fulton County Republican Party took...

On the Senate runoff Election Day, January 5, 2021, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane C. Barwick ordered the Fulton County Board of Elections to "allow credentialed monitors to view absentee and UOCAVA [Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act] ballots at least ten feet away from processing tables" in accordance with state elections board rules.

The Gateway Pundit article was published at 8:48 p.m. on the day of voting in the two Senate runoff elections. The judge's order had been issued that afternoon. This is what the story had to say about how the Fulton County elections board was complying with the order:

The judge ordered elections officials to allow poll monitors to be at least 10 feet away from the processing tables, inside the steel barriers. However Fulton County elections officials are still blocking credentialed monitors from overseeing absentee ballots and verifying signatures despite the court order.

At a news conference the following day carried by Georgia Public Broadcasting and other news outlets Gabriel, a Republican, gave a lengthy response to a reporter's question relating to the events that led to the judge's order. Here is his response, which begins about the 20:40 minute mark in the more than 23-minute video (below):

They're at Georgia World Congress Center. That's a big place. So, it's a difficult thing to allow people to move in and around the stuff that you're doing. Now, Fulton did a few extra things that I think were inappropriate given the way the law is written. The intention of the law is to allow monitors and the public to view the voting process. That includes signature match. That includes counting. That includes all of that. Unfortunately, Fulton County put up some opaque barriers; so, you couldn't see anything that they were doing. Now, their argument is -- and there is a push and pull with this -- the state mandates that you protect the personal identifying information of individual voters and the secrecy of their vote. That's one side. It also says, 'Hey, you have to let everybody see what's going on.' So, you have to have a balance between those things. In our opinion, and in the court's opinion, obviously, Fulton County went a little too much on the side of keeping monitors away.

At about the 21:30 mark, Sterling outlines how Fulton County elections officials complied with the order:

So, Judge Barwick recommended a consent order with the Fulton County Republican Party and Fulton County, and they kind of split the baby. They [Fulton County] were keeping them [poll monitors] 20 feet away. They made it 10 feet away. They took down the opaque barriers. They put down tape. That allowed them to get some better viewing. And we believe that sunlight and transparency is a better thing for people to feel more secure about this.

In an email to Lead Stories, Barron, the Fulton County elections board director, shared some of the arguments the county attorney's office made with the judge about why barriers had been installed. They centered on monitors interfering with the absentee ballot counting process, which the county attorney's office said included:

  • Not properly wearing required Face Masks near people whose team was devasted by COVID-19 outbreaks with more than 60% of their staff impacted and one member of the team dying of this dreaded disease
  • Actually moving well within 10 feet of workers as they tried to do their tasks so that they could "see the ballots".
  • Disregarding limitations on the number of authorized observers to two per party at a time on the floor and an army of more than 15 "monitors" on the GWCC floor.

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes thegatewaypundit.com as:

A partisan conservative website that regularly publishes hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and unsubstantiated claims, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

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  Olivera Perkins

Olivera Perkins is a veteran journalist and fact checker at Lead Stories, who has covered a variety of beats, including labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

Read more about or contact Olivera Perkins

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