The Trump campaign is falsely claiming that surveillance camera footage captured election workers in Georgia adding thousands of illegal ballots that were brought into an Atlanta facility in suspicious “suitcases” on election night.
The campaign presented the video to Georgia state lawmakers on Dec. 3. President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wrote on Twitter the same day: “The video tape doesn’t lie. Fulton County Democrats stole the election. It’s now beyond doubt.”
But state officials told us that the full video shows the supposed “suitcases” were actually standard containers used to secure ballots, and that the ballots in question were opened and prepared for counting earlier in the night in full view of observers. They said the campaign presented limited, selective parts of the footage.
That’s based on their review of the day’s video footage in full. Also, even though observers from the parties and press left the room before vote counting resumed, officials said, a state election board monitor and investigator from the Secretary of State’s office both returned to watch the counting until its completion.
Left unclear, though, is whether the observers and news media who were in the room were ever told by any election worker, explicitly or implicitly, to leave because the vote counting had ceased, as we’ll explain. Republicans allege that happened. Fulton County’s election director has disputed that claim.
No ‘Suitcases’ in Video
The video in question — which has been widely shared across social media — was presented to Georgia state legislators during the Dec. 3 hearing by a lawyer named Jacki Pick, who said she was volunteering for Trump’s legal team. Pick said the team had received the footage the night before.
Pick said the video shows observers and the press leaving a room at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, which was used to count absentee and military ballots, shortly before 11 p.m. She claimed that, according to witnesses, a woman had told the observers and press that “we’re going to stop counting, everyone go home.”
She pointed out that many of the elections workers had left for the night in the video, but four workers are seen in the video staying behind to continue counting.
“Once everyone is gone, coast is clear, they are going to pull ballots out from underneath a table – watch this table,” she said at the hearing. “I saw four suitcases come out from underneath the table.” The video shows the counting continued until nearly 1 a.m., she said.
But the supposed “suitcases” were typical ballot containers used to secure ballots, Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told us in a phone interview. Likewise, Matthew Mashburn, the state Senate’s appointee to the state election board, told us the video showed “standard secure containers that are ubiquitous in tabulation in Georgia.”
And Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, said that the full video showed that the containers were carrying ballots that were opened and processed earlier in the night. They weren’t suspicious ballots brought surreptitiously into the building, or ballots that were opened in secret.
“They were put in there about an hour earlier,” Sterling, a Republican, said by phone. He said of the Trump campaign: “They watched the same video tape.”
Sterling also said he saw no anomalies in the vote data that suggested any kind of mass voter fraud, as has been alleged. “These are just regular elections workers” doing their job, he said.
While state law allows for observers to watch the vote counting, Sterling said, it was not illegal for the vote counting to resume when the observers left. He said his office was working on making the video footage from the arena public so that voters could see the footage with more context.
Matter of Dispute
What is clear from our interviews with state officials is that, at some point, the elections workers did evidently plan to stop counting votes.
Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron also made that clear during a special, virtual public meeting on Dec. 4. He said that “certain staff that were on the cutting stations, that were on the flattening stations, that were extracting from the inner envelopes, those staff left as work completed.”
“I found out sometime, I think a little after 10:30 [p.m.], that they were gonna cease operations and I told them not to do that,” he said. He added that at “about 11:15 [p.m.], they were fully scanning again.”
While Pick claimed that witnesses said they were told to leave, Barron said that “no announcement was ever made to leave, for anyone to leave.”
State officials, however, said they couldn’t definitely say whether that occurred.
“We have launched an investigation into why the monitors from the political parties left before scanning ended,” the Secretary of State’s office said in a statement. “While it was their right to leave early, we want to make certain they were not misled into thinking scanning had stopped for the night when it had not. Nothing we have learned from the independent monitor or our investigation have suggested any improper ballots were scanned.”
Sterling said it did not appear there was any official announcement made to the observers or press, but there’s no audio to prove that one way or another.
Pick didn’t respond to our request to see the affidavits she said supported her claim. While Pick is listed as a lawyer by the State Bar of Texas, she appears to work primarily as a conservative podcast host. She and her husband, Doug Deason, are major Republican donors.
Also, there’s no evidence that a “water main break” inside the arena earlier that day had anything to do with the observers and press leaving, as some have claimed.
One of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, wrote on Facebook that “Republican observers were cleared out of State Farm Arena due to a ‘water main break’, but 4 people stayed behind, rolled out suitcases of ballots, & continue to count ballots in private from around 1030PM until 1AM.”
But the water leak occurred at 6:07 a.m. on Election Day, according to the arena, and it was fixed within two hours — meaning it occurred long before the episode in question.
Debunked Ballot Figures
During the legislative hearing, Pick maintained that the votes counted in the room after observers left could have been enough to change the presidential election results in Georgia.
But that’s wrong, according to the state election board monitor who was in the room as they counted.
The monitor — who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of not being named due to death threats faced by election workers — told us he was in the room until about 8:15 p.m., when he left, and returned at 11:52 p.m.
Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, told us the monitor was not required to be there at all times, but she instructed him to return after hearing from news outlets that the county was going to cease counting for the night.
The monitor arrived at 11:52 p.m. — after the observers left shortly before 11 p.m. — and stayed until the counting ceased at 12:43 a.m.
Between 8:15 p.m. and 12:43 a.m., the change in total ballots went from 89,381 ballots to 99,133 ballots — so a difference of 9,752 votes — he said. And, again, that’s over the course of more than four hours, not just the time after observers and media left.
The footage is not the first to spark claims of fraud in Georgia. We also wrote about a video showing an election worker conducting an ordinary part of the recount process in Gwinnett County that prompted false claims. The videos have been part of a surge of falsehoods aimed at undermining the results of the 2020 election, as we’ve reported.
Saranac Hale Spencer contributed to this report.
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