Fact Check

Did Georgia Poll Workers Hide 'Suitcases' of Ballots From Republican Observers?

The Trump campaign alleged the nefarious scheme unfolded around midnight on Nov. 3 in Atlanta's State Farm Arena, and was captured on video.

Published Dec. 4, 2020

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 04: Election workers count Fulton County ballots at State Farm Arena on November 4, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 2020 presidential race between incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is still too close to call with outstanding ballots to count. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
Video surveillance footage shows poll workers at Atlanta's State Farm Arena using suitcases to hide ballots from Republican observers on Nov. 3, 2020.

On Dec. 3, 2020, a committee of Georgia state legislators met to discuss potential changes to the state's election system after fewer than 13,000 votes separated Democratic nominee Joe Biden and U.S. President Donald Trump in the presidential election. The group, formally called the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, heard numerous testimonies from people alleging crimes at polling sites.

Among those testifiers were attorneys advocating on behalf of the Trump campaign, including Rudy Giuliani. They showed the committee frames of surveillance footage supposedly showing a handful of poll workers illegally counting absentee and military ballots inside a banquet room of Atlanta's State Farm Arena on Election Day, Nov. 3, as part of a wide-ranging effort to delegitimize Biden's win. (A Trump-requested ballot recount in Atlanta's Fulton County concluded Dec. 4, when county elections officials certified results showing Biden the clear winner.)

The presentation by the Trump attorneys was amplified by Fox News' Sean Hannity; The Epoch Times, a website perpetuating the Trump campaign's baseless allegations of voter fraud by nefariously marketing itself as a news operation; The Gateway Pundit, an online hub of conspiracies, and numerous social media accounts, including Trump's.

"Blockbuster testimony taking place right now in Georgia," the president tweeted during the Georgia committee meeting.

The surveillance footage showed an overhead view of the banquet room over the course of hours and, according to lawyer Jacki Pick, was evidence of Atlanta's Fulton County's flawed ballot-counting system that showed Biden the winner.

Narrating the images beginning around 10:30 p.m. and citing testimonies from Republican volunteers who were observing the vote counting, Pick told legislators the following, according to a livestream of the committee meeting obtained by Snopes:

There is a lady who has blonde braids who comes out to announce, 'We're going to stop counting. Everyone go home.' And, in fact, we see that. What happens is, everyone clears out, including the Republican observers and the press. But four people stay behind and continue counting and tabulating well into the night. [...]

They will continue counting — unobserved, unsupervised, not in public view, as your statute requires — until about one in the morning. The reason we know this is because, when our Republican observers were forced to leave, they went to the central tabulation center, and they got word from a news crew that, in fact, counting had continued.

In short, Pick alleged poll workers (one of whom The Gateway Pundit claimed to have identified) conspired together and waited for Republican observers and reporters to leave the room before counting some ballots, violating Georgia's statutes governing poll watchers' rights.

Additionally, she pointed out frames showing "the lady with the blonde braids" — whom she later identified as a spokesperson for Atlanta's Fulton County — placing a table in the banquet room, under which poll workers retrieved a container of ballots after the onlookers left.

"The same person who cleared the place out under the pretense that 'we're going to stop counting' is the person who put the table there," the lawyer told Georgia senators. "I saw four suitcases come out from underneath the table."

According to both the Fulton County Board of Elections and Georgia's secretary of state, however, the allegations were unfounded. On multiple occasions after Nov. 3, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said there was no evidence of systemic errors or fraud to change the outcome of the state's results in Biden's favor.

“Nothing we have learned from the independent monitor or our investigation have suggested any improper ballots were scanned,” the secretary of state office told Forbes.

We'll unpack the details of officials' response to the State Farm Arena episode, specifically. The day after the testimony, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who oversees voting systems for the secretary of state's office, said agency investigators watched the surveillance video in its entirety, and they did not notice suspicious or illegal activity. "Shows normal ballot processing," he tweeted.

He retweeted a web page by LeadStories.com in which Frances Watson, chief investigator for the secretary of state, was quoted as saying the supposedly suspicious containers under the banquet room's table were not suitcases, but rather standard containers for transporting ballots.

"It was an empty bin and the ballots from it were actually out on the table when the media were still there, and then it was placed back into the box when the media were still there and placed next to the table," Watson said.

Sterling also told Lead Stories: "If you look at the video tape, the work you see is the work you would expect, which is you take the sealed suitcase looking things in, you place the ballots on the scanner in manageable batches and you scan them."

Before certifying Fulton County's voter tallies on Dec. 4, which was typically a mundane step in U.S. presidential elections before electors solidify the outcome of the popular vote through the Electoral College, the county's election director, Rick Barron, said no one told anyone (including the observers and reporters) to leave the banquet room on the night of Nov. 3, according to Atlanta's 11Alive. Rather, some poll workers had finished their shifts, and the staff was considering ceasing operations.

"I told them not to do that," Barron said, per the news outlet. "At about 11:15 [p.m.] they were fully scanning again, and once they were scanning, Carter Jones, the State Election Board monitor, he told me 11:42 or 11:52 [p.m.] that he arrived."

In other words, Barron alleged that a nonpartisan, state-designated monitor was present when poll workers were scanning ballots just before and after midnight. And after that, he said, an investigator with the secretary of state's office also monitored the ballot scanning. Barron said, per Atlanta 11Alive:

What the video shows is that they have pulled out plastic bins from underneath the desks, those are bins that they keep under their desks near the scanners. They will cut those seals that are on those, open those up and pull the ballots out.

They were still in the process of cleaning so they hadn't sealed those ballot boxes up, so they were able to just start right back up, normal processing that occurred there.

Following the Senate committee meeting featuring Pick's testimony about the alleged "suitcases," Republican Georgia lawmakers announced that the state House's Governmental Affairs Committee will hold another hearing on the state's election system Dec. 10. “Our committee will seek any credible evidence of fraud or wrong-doing and determine what, if any, legislative action may be necessary to preserve the sanctity of the ballot box," a statement read.

In sum, no evidence showed poll workers at the Atlanta site conspired together to hide one or more ballots from Republican observers. Additionally, elections officials said the footage did not show suitcases, but rather standard bins for transporting ballots.

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.