The Georgia State Election Board Ensures 2024 Will Be a 2020 Repeat

During its quarterly meeting on May 7, 2024, the Georgia State Election Board (SEB) refused to refer Election Complaint (SEB2023-025) to the Attorney General (AG) for investigation and prosecution per a motion from SEB member Dr. Janice Johnston. The case is possibly one of the most important election cases in Georgia's history. Sadly, board member Rick Jeffares, who had promised support for the case, was a day late and several dollars short. Jaffares failed to show up at the hearing. The moment was critical and would have allowed him to second Johnston's motion to refer the case. His vote would have forced Chairman Fervier to put his cards on the table and break (or not break) the tie.

On May 8, both board members Rick Jeffares and Johnston made reconsideration motions to refer Fulton County vote processing violations to the state AG. Ultimately, Chairman John Fervier ruled the motions out of order. Jeffares motioned to "investigate and review the failure to provide or retain 173 required documents associated with the 10 named Advanced Voting Scanners from the Nov. 3, 2020, General election." Johnston followed with a motion to review the issue of missing ballot images associated with SEB2023-025. "I move to review the case 2023-025." Johnston continued, "It suggests there's sufficient evidence that multiple violations occurred when Fulton County failed to retain ballot images for 17,852 counted votes from the Nov. 3, 2020 election recount. I move that the State Election Board initiate an independent investigation of the authenticity of votes associated with 17,852 missing ballot images from the Nov. 3, 2020 election recount."

Notably, the SEB has never required motions to be placed on the agenda before they are made. Moreover, it is standard practice for the SEB to refer even just one violation of law to the AG when there is no reasonable explanation.

According to VoterGA, on May 7, "The SEB heard over 140 violations of law and rules allegedly committed by Fulton County in processing electronic results during the 2020 election." Founder Garland Favorito founded the nonprofit, non-partisan organization known as VoterGA to ensure Georgia elections are conducted with fairness and transparency and to restore trust in the state's elections. To summarize 2023-025's findings, Moncla and Rossi allegedly identified "up to 58,924 ballots cast and counted that had no source justification."

 
  • 20,713 ballots with certified votes have no source tabulator from which they should have originated;
  • 17,852 ballots with certified votes had no ballot images that are required for vote tabulation;
  • 17,234 unsourced votes found for certification after reporting results with an even larger shortfall;
  • 3,125 double-scanned and double-counted ballots


The SEB also heard hours of public comment on the 7th, with evidence from citizen after citizen, as shown below.



Similar testimony has been presented elsewhere, including testimony in the form of sworn affidavits referenced in a report by Honorable William T. Ligon. Ligon's findings stemmed from a Dec. 3, 2020, hearing with the Georgia Study Subcommittee of the Standing Senate Judiciary Committee.
 

Dr. Johnston Alone Asked the Important Questions and Challenged the State's Findings

Dr. Johnston was the only member of the Board who seemed to care about the investigation. She asked informed, probing questions, hoping to get to the bottom of the secretary of state's response to the SEB2023-025 complaint submitted by Kevin Moncla and Joseph Rossi. Johnston addressed clear violations of state laws, chain of custody issues, poor vote reconciliation, the pitfalls of voting machines, and the fact that the state continues withholding physical ballots for review from the 2020 Presidential Election. 



In the May 7 hearing, Johnston urged her fellow board members to take action with a motion that would adjust for the blatant violations with a correction in the count and another that would request an investigation of the "authenticity of the ballots from 10 advanced voting scanners or expunge the votes from those scanners from the record." Not a single colleague stepped forward to second her motions. Johnston stated that negligent conduct concerning the vote counts in the days following the 2020 election has caused distrust in elections. She lamented the unnecessary challenges citizens face in their earnest attempts to properly address their grievances. Johnson stated:

"First, the problem with [the] Election Day count and the failure to properly secure, protect, and document the safety and authenticity of the votes from 10 advanced voting locations is appalling. Record keeping is abysmal. Proper documentation to ensure the public that votes in ballot boxes have not been tampered with is shamefully poor. The opportunity to electronically stuff the ballot box was obviously available, and that has left a film of doubt and suspicion over Fulton County that may be impossible to wipe away unless something is done to ensure that it's not."


An outside observer with no knowledge of the history of the complaint would watch the presentation from lead SOS investigator Michael Brunson and SOS attorney Charlene McGowan and walk away completely confused. The confusion would stem in part from the fact that only one side of the conversation was heard. The state was allowed to present its findings, but Moncla and Rossi were not allowed to rebut. This left Dr. Johnston with the frustrating task of challenging the state's findings without the support of Moncla and Rossi, who know the case intimately.

McGowan was often rude and impatient with Johnston's questions, all of which were submitted in good faith and in line with her duty to thoroughly investigate and respond to the case on behalf of Georgia voters. McGowan also failed to admit that she and the secretary of state's office have refused to allow the SEB or Georgia citizens to review the physical paper ballots. As pointed out in a May 8 press release from VoterGA, McGowan "filed an amicus brief in VoterGA's Fulton Co. counterfeit ballot case in an attempt to prevent looking at the ballots. The brief was shown legally and publicly to be riddled with false information."

Moncla and Rossi responded to the May 7 hearing with a letter to Chairman Fervier and the SEB stating their disappointment in being unable to rebut their complaint's dismissive and superficial investigation. The letter referenced past practices of the Board, allowing for a rebuttal—a rebuttal that "allowed an interactive discussion" and a "true hearing" of the issues as promised in writing by the General Counsel to the Secretary of State, Mr. Ryan Germany.

Absent a more fulsome rebuttal, Moncla and Rossi believe the public will continue to be misled by the state, mainly because the state is the only party that has seen the paper ballots and the ballot images of the Election Day Count were not preserved. The state tried several times to minimize the importance of missing files, including SHA files, ballot images, etc., because they said they had seen and hand-counted the paper ballots. However, a system that fails to compare the paper ballots with at least one other metric, such as ballot images or SHA files, is hardly a system most voters are willing to trust at this point. 

Again and again, McGowan tried to convince the audience that some of Johnston's concerns were never part of the investigation by asserting that the state was only asked to look at the recount. However, Moncla and Rossi's letter reminds the state that "the Recount was intended to validate the underlying first machine count. That was necessary because, as the Complaint notes, Fulton County admitted it had not preserved any ballot images from the Election Day Count or any ballot images other than those on 'two flash drives' delivered on Jun. 3, 2021. It was critically important that the ballot images from the Recount be preserved—either to prove the veracity of the Election Day Count or to serve as the only official record of the election. Our Complaint was intended to show that that is not the case, and we believe that the evidence shown at yesterday's session, properly understood, proves that complaint." 

Dr. Johnston's questions ferreted out numerous gaps in data and poked several holes in the logic of the state's investigators. Try as they did to disingenuously convince people that specific files or certain data were "outside the scope" of the state's investigation, Johnston explained that it was her "duty to investigate" and that the information she was requesting is "part of the investigation." When McCowan repeated that the complaint was only about the recount and certain things like SHA files, or Election Day images, were "not part of the complaint or the investigation," Johnston replied:

"It is a part of the total count. This was the recount that became the certified count for the election. So anything that has to do with the certified count of the votes and the ballots for the election is part of this complaint and the record keeping thereof,—and the documentation and authentication that this is a valid count. So yes, the SHA files have everything to do with it and, actually, they should be part of the electronic file that is kept with the Clerk of the court and the Superintendent of the county."

Notably, Johnston asked for SHA files four months ago and never received them. As Johnston explained, "Sha files are part of the electronic record that should have been kept according to state election board rule 183 1-12.13." Johnston added, "The ballot image is supposed to be accompanied by a SHA file which proves that the ballot image has not been tampered with. The SHA files are a part of the election record that should have been kept." Furthermore, 380,761 Election Day ballot images had allegedly been deleted, a fact that surprised the Fulton County attorney. Contrary to McGowan's statements, Johnston is correct in quoting the SEB rule that requires the ballot images to be preserved.

The request for the SHA files was part of a detailed list asking for the necessary files to investigate the case properly. The red areas indicate the items that were NOT provided.




After some back-and-forth between Johnston, the State, and Fulton County, it became abundantly clear that only the state and Fulton County had seen the paper ballots since the hand count. Johnston again posited that it might be necessary to reconcile at least two of the parameters associated with the compliance file, as any reasonable auditor searching for evidence would do.



Given the circumstances, Johnston asked McCowan, "For the investigators, do we need to go to the clerk of the court and examine the electronic file and the physical paper ballots?" McCowan rejected the notion altogether, stating, "No, this has been an exhaustive investigation. We have spent hundreds of man-hours on it. As you have seen, counsel for Fulton County has been very cooperative. They have spent hundreds of man-hours while they have been administering this primary that is going on right now. So, we feel like this has been an exhaustive review. We've researched all the documentation that we need to reach our conclusions."

In other words, "JUST TRUST US."

Johnston responded by again saying it was "hard [for her] to reach a conclusion that thousands of ballots actually exist. So the only thing I would recommend," she repeated, "Is that we go to the clerk of the court, obtain the electronic file that should contain all of the ballot images and the physical paper ballots for review."

At one point, Rossi was asked to explain some of the data associated with his extensive investigation of the Georgia hand count audit. The audit referenced was conducted on November 14 and 15 for the 2020 Presidential election. The Governor later referred Rossi's findings for review and produced his own report, which validated Rossi's findings and confirmed "there were massive errors and fraudulent reporting." Rossi explained that because of the 36 specific problems he found, roughly 6000 votes (or net 4081 that all went to Biden) that never existed were fraudulently added to the hand count after the Nov. 3 election. Rossi added the errors produced a "more than 3% error rate in the count." 

However, SEB member Sarah Tindall Ghazal wasn't having it—not one bit. She tried to silence Rossi and convince everyone that Rossi's numbers were wrong. Unfortunately for Ghazal, however, both Rossi's and the Governor's numbers show that over 6000 ballots were, in fact, falsely added to the total in the hand count. Therefore, if one were to remove the 6000 votes, the November 3rd election results would no longer match the hand count.

Ghazal seemed unpersuaded by the facts and tried to convince everyone in the room that Rossi's numbers were wildly incorrect, the case was closed, and everyone should move on. However, Ghazal conveniently forgot to mention that hidden in a transcript somewhere, the state's investigator confirmed the 36 errors but conveniently never totaled up the results of those errors. Doing that would make it obvious to the public that the recount was inaccurate. I'm just spitballing here, but it looks like the state acknowledged the errors but purposely hid the totals to make the hand count match the Nov. 3 election count.

In addition, Ghazal, an attorney, failed to mention that she voted to adopt a consent agreement that shut down further discussion of the case in June 2023, sight unseen. The June consent agreement is likely why Chairman Duffey ultimately resigned.

While Ghazal may have appeared to know what she was talking about in the May 7 hearing, she knew nothing about the final total because she never read the consent agreement and signed it anyway—a clear ethics violation on her part. Moncla and Rossi are considering filing an ethics complaint against Ghazal and McCowan to correct the record and protect the integrity of Rossi's investigation. The pair is also formulating a rebuttal in the hope that they will be able to correct the record with the SEB and get the referrals their investigation deserves.  

Not one to back down, Ghazal then proceeded to stonewall. She launched into a diatribe replete with fancy legal jargon about how "double jeopardy" applies here and that the "audit is never intended to have an equal total" but rather "it is intended to identify the candidate who won and whether or not the totals accurately identified that." She ended by telling Rossi and the other board members to take a hike while admonishing everyone that "the record should reflect accuracy and truth." 

After watching this sad hearing, it seems that the only people who sincerely want to investigate Georgia's 2020 election are Dr. Jan Johnston and a group of concerned citizens who hope to prevent these types of errors and violations from ever happening again. 

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