People protest outside State Farm Arena where Fulton County Elections officials are counting ballots on November 5, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia (AFP / Tami Chappell)

Georgia video of ballots in suitcases does not show election fraud

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Social media posts claim security footage shows election workers in the US state of Georgia committing fraud by counting ballots from suitcases. This is false; the Georgia investigator who conducted a probe into the video, the state’s voting system implementation manager, and the county where the vote count took place all said the video did not show wrongdoing.

“Video footage from Georgia's State Farm Arena tabulation center shows hidden suitcases filled with ballots pulled from under a table AFTER supervisors told poll workers to leave room. People stayed behind to keep counting votes - thereby violating election laws,” a December 3, 2020 Facebook post reads, calling the footage “smoking gun” evidence.

Screenshot of a Facebook post, taken on December 9, 2020

The Trump campaign’s Twitter account, which has 2.4 million followers, tweeted the footage on the same day: “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.”

The video, which was shot in Fulton County, Georgia, was aired by One America News Network -- which described it as showing “potential ballot stuffing” -- and was presented as evidence during a December 3 Georgia Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

But Frances Watson, the chief investigator in the office of Georgia’s secretary of state, testified on December 5 that “our investigation and review of the entire security footage revealed that there were no mystery ballots that were brought in from an unknown location and hidden under tables as had been reported by some.”

The ballots in question were packed up because “the employees thought that they were done for the night and were closing up and ready to leave. When the counting continued into later into the night, those boxes were opened so that the ballots inside could then be counted.”

Watson also said the investigation found that “observers and media were not asked to leave. They simply left on their own when they saw one group of workers... also leave.”

Some posts claim that a water leak at State Farm Arena was “staged” to get supervisors to leave the room and make way for fraudulent ballot counting. Watson’s testimony and a statement from the venue clarified that the plumbing issue was actually a urinal leak that occurred and was resolved early in the morning on November 3 and did not affect counting that night.

Gabriel Sterling, the Georgia secretary of state’s voting system implementation manager, who is a Republican, said in a tweet citing Lead Stories’ fact check that the video “shows normal ballot processing.”

Fulton County, where the ballot counting in the video took place, also issued a statement on the claims: “During the last week, false claims about Fulton County’s elections have been widely circulated. One specific claim involves the counting of absentee ballots, and security footage presented out of context.

“Fulton County has cooperated fully with the Secretary of State’s investigation of the events that occurred, which concluded that there was no fraud or any unusual behavior.”

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Republican, accused Trump of spewing “mountains of misinformation” in his bid to discredit the vote in Georgia, a once reliably Republican state where Democrat Joe Biden won by some 12,000 votes.

And on December 1, Sterling said Trump's rhetoric could lead to violence.

“Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. It's not right,” Sterling said.

A post with the hidden ballots claim called for a woman pictured in the video to be subject to a “firing squad.” Another called a county employee a “Georgia Traitor” with the note: “You know what to do.”

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office recertified presidential election results on December 7, affirming Biden’s win over Trump.

AFP has fact-checked more false and misleading Georgia election fraud claims here, here and here.

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