Chatham Co. judge dismisses lawsuit filed by Ga. GOP, Trump campaign over absentee ballots

Thousands of absentee and provisional ballots continue to be counted in Chatham County at the...
Thousands of absentee and provisional ballots continue to be counted in Chatham County at the Board of Elections Office.(WTOC)
Updated: Nov. 5, 2020 at 11:45 AM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - UPDATE, THURSDAY, NOV. 5 - A Chatham County judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign and the Georgia Republican Party alleging that Chatham County elections officials improperly counted absentee ballots received after the state’s deadline.

The Trump campaign and Georgia GOP lawyers brought in two witnesses, two elections observers, who raised the issue Wednesday afternoon about the 53 absentee ballots and whether or not they should be counted. The emergency petition filed claimed that one observer saw absentee ballots that had not been properly processed mixed into a pile of absentee ballots already set to be tabulated.

The Board of Registrars chairman and supervisor were called in to testify, both saying all the proper protocol had been followed regarding those ballots in question and time-stamped, indicating they had been submitted before the 7 p.m. deadline on Election Day.

Those filing the lawsuit called on the county elections officials to enforce election law and prevent unlawful counting of absentee ballots received after the election.

The lawsuit filed did not ask for the county to stop, but rather asked for the Board of Elections to “secure and account” for ballots received after 7 p.m. on Election Day.

By Superior Court Judge James Bass denying the petition, that indicates he believes the county has enforced state election law, and that there was no evidence presented to say otherwise.

“It was particularly vindicating to have a Superior Court Judge rule in our favor, which I take as vindication that the hardworking staff members at the Board of Registrars and their counterparts at the Board of Elections are complying with Georgia law and ensuring this is a process that is secure and has integrity throughout, so that we can ensure the public that their votes have been properly counted," said Colin McRae, Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman.

McRae testified that he actually went to the Elections annex Thursday morning to physically check each of the 53 ballots in question to make sure they had been received in time to be counted.

One of the issues brought up by those filing suit was the security and storage of absentee ballots that didn’t come in time, and rejected as a result. 41 absentee ballots have met that fate so far this year.

The box sits in the office of the absentee ballot clerk, and the Board of Registrars Chairman contended it’s a safe location to keep those separate from the accepted ballots.

“We’re in a secure facility. It’s not one where anybody off the street can just come in and try to either slip in ballots or take them out, whatever. So the court was obviously convinced that the manner in which the Board of Registrars is securing these late received ballots complies with Georgia law," said McRae.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Georgia Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s campaign has filed a lawsuit against the Chatham County Board of Elections asking a judge to order the county to secure and account for ballots received after 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Georgia Republican Party Chair David Shafer tweeted Wednesday that party lawyers have filed an emergency petition against the Chatham County board.

In this lawsuit the Georgia GOP and The Trump Campaign say absentee ballots were possibly counted that arrived after 7 PM on Election day.

In the lawsuit, the Ga. GOP claims an observer saw “absentee ballots that had not been properly processed apparently mixed into a pile of absentee ballots that was already set to be tabulated.”

The poll watcher says he saw four bins of ballots and then saw a poll worker bring a stack of ballots from a back room and then placed them on a table near the bins with ballots. He says after leaving the room and then returning the bins were gone and found out they were en route to the Annex where absentee ballots are being processed and tabulated.

He then says he was unable to find a stack of 53 ballots.

David Shafer, the Chairman of the state party, was made aware of the complaints and addressed that the lawsuit has been filed, quote, “to enforce election laws and prevent the unlawful counting of absentee ballots received after the election.”

Chatham County Board of Elections Chairman Tom Mahoney III released a statement to WTOC saying, “The Chatham County Board of Elections is following Georgia elections law, and I believe that the specific allegations of the observer, I believe that the observer is mistaken.”

You can read the lawsuit below:

WTOC spoke with Antwan Lang, a democratic member of the Chatham County Board of Elections, who stated the board was not aware of the lawsuit at the time.

Lang did provide this statement, “We are committed to making sure every vote is counted and secure. We are confident the Board of Registrar’s has done their due diligence in protecting the right to vote and the Board of Elections will continue to process ballots until every vote is counted.”

We also reached out to the Georgia Trump Campaign and the Biden Campaign and they did not want provide a comment.

Secretary of State Raffensperger has a news conference planned for Thursday and it is anticipated that he will address this.

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