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Judge rules Fulton County absentee ballots to be unsealed, reviewed after fraud claims

Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, has been the source of conspiracy theories, largely promoted by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
Fulton County Georgia elections workers process absentee ballots for the Senate runoff election in Atlanta on Jan. 5, 2021.Ben Gray / AP

A county judge in Georgia ruled Friday that 2020 election absentee ballots in the state’s most populous county can be unsealed and reviewed by a group of electors claiming Fulton County election workers counted fraudulent ballots.

"Petitioners shall only be permitted to inspect and scan said ballots in accordance with protocols and practices that will be set forth by further order of the Court," Superior Court Judge Brian Amero said in a one-page ruling. He scheduled another hearing on the matter for May 28.

The Associated Press was first to report the ruling.

The suit was filed in December by four electors in Georgia and led by Garland Favorito, the co-founder of a group called Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia. The group does not "seek a particular election result, but rather the open and honest truth about what occurred in Fulton County on the night of the election,” according to court documents. The group alleges in court documents, according to affidavits from four election auditors, that there were “counterfeit ballots” in Fulton County “counted and recounted” by officials.

The Georgia lawsuit comes as election reviewers are set to resume a high-profile audit in Arizona that has drawn the ire of Democrats and some Republicans.

Baseless allegations by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters that the election was stolen have given rise to hundreds of restrictive voting bills in at least 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan group tracking election legislation.

Fulton County, which includes metro Atlanta, has been a focus of Trump conspiracy theories. Due to the pandemic and a law passed before the election by the GOP-controlled state Legislature that made it easier to vote by mail, more people used that option. However, none of a number of lawsuits filed challenging the results in Georgia succeeded, and President Joe Biden won by a slim margin. The ballot review stemming from this lawsuit will not change the election outcome.

The state also conducted three audits soon after the election — a hand recount and a subsequent machine recount requested by the Trump campaign and a signature audit in Cobb County, all of which affirmed the original outcome of the race there.

Amero said in a court document that the review would be done under the guidance and supervision of a special master appointed by the court. This is different from the GOP-led audit in Maricopa County, Arizona — that state’s largest county, which also helped Biden flip the state. That audit has been rife with controversy, including actions of the private company hired by Arizona Senate Republicans to recount millions of ballots from the 2020 election. The company, known as Cyber Ninjas, has raised the specter of possible Antifa attacks and traces of bamboo in the ballots, and it planned to use UV lights to hunt for fraud, among other conspiratorial concerns.