New emails heighten mystery around presidential vote count in Georgia's largest county
Media were told ballot-counting had stopped; sworn testimony says counters were dismissed.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
Internal emails from Fulton County election workers obtained by Just the News are heightening the mystery surrounding ballot-processing in Georgia's largest county during last November's presidential contest.
Uncertainty arose regarding the ballot processing operation at Fulton County's State Farm Arena on and after Election Night, when ballot-scanning apparently continued even after most election workers had reportedly been sent home.
Two separate sworn affidavits from Election Night poll workers claimed that, at roughly 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, an official directed workers to stop working and to return the next day at 8:30 a.m.
Nearly half a dozen local and national media outlets, meanwhile, reported being told that absentee ballot-counting had ceased at around 10:30 p.m. and would resume the next day. Several reports cited county spokeswoman Regina Waller for that information.
Counting at the State Farm Arena, however, continued past 10:30 p.m. after most staffers had left. In December, Waller told Just the News that, contrary to the numerous media reports, she had "stated to all media ... that although several workers were released to go home, a small team remained behind to assist with scanning ballots."
It is unclear why no media outlets appear to have mentioned that fact.
In the emails obtained this weekend by Just the News through an open records request, Waller appears to indicate that the ballot-counting team had dispersed by around 10:30 p.m.
In the email, timestamped at 10:22 p.m. on Nov. 3 and addressed to several county officials as well as State Farm Arena spokesman Garin Narain, Waller wrote: "The workers in the Absentee Ballot Processing area will get started again at 8 am tomorrow." Waller goes on to request arrangements for news crews hoping to get live shots of the counting the following day.
Reached for comment via email, Waller said the email "was in response to a question received asking when all workers would return." She did not respond to a request to see the original email to which she was responding.
Another email obtained by Just the News, meanwhile, also points to more uncertainty regarding the timetable of ballot-counting on Election Night.
In a message sent at 11:15 p.m. that night, Fulton County Interagency Affairs Manager Fran Phillips-Calhoun wrote to Waller and several other county staffers: "FYI – [the Secretary of State's office] just sort of threw the team under the bus stating that 'we had a great day, but we decided to throw in the towel for the night even though the public is waiting...' on results."
Phillips-Calhoun did not specify what message from the Secretary of State's office she was referring to. The county worker did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to the unclear messaging coming from Fulton County officials on Election Night, the process that played out at State Farm Arena was further complicated by two sworn affidavits from ballot watchers whose testimonies, given under penalty of perjury, appear to confirm at least some controversial aspects of the news reports from that night.
One, from Georgia Republican Party Field Organizer Michelle Branton, claimed that, at around 10:30 p.m., "a woman [in the ballot-processing room] yelled to everyone to stop working and to return the next day at 8:30 a.m."
"Nearly all of the staff workers" departed the arena after that directive, Branton stated, leaving only a small number of workers behind, one of whom was Regina Waller.
Another Georgia Republican Party ballot watcher, Mitchell Harrison, said in his own sworn testimony that he worked alongside Branton that night and also witnessed the woman dismiss workers "sometime after 10 o'clock," after which "all but 4 election employees" left the arena.
Both Branton and Harrison said they had been directed by a GOP supervisor to obtain the number of ballots scanned and the number remaining to be scanned. Both claimed to have asked Regina Waller for that information three separate times; Waller eventually told them to find the information on the state’s website.
The two left State Farm Arena "shortly after 10:30 p.m." and said that some time after returning to the Fulton County Board of Elections Warehouse, they became aware that ballot counting was still continuing at the arena.
Harrison said he and another worker eventually returned to to the Arena "just before 1:00 a.m.," upon which “we were told counting had been going on, but had just ended in the last few minutes.”