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Presidential Elections 2020

New emails heighten mystery around presidential vote count in Georgia’s largest county

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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.”

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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.”

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Presidential Elections 2020

Michigan judge rules secretary of state violated election law by unilaterally changing absentee voting rules

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Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last year said local clerks should start with a presumption of validity when verifying signatures on absentee ballot applications, but a court ruling says that rule wasn’t properly established.

A Michigan Court of Claims judge last week ruled that clerks no longer need to follow those instructions for determining whether to send an absentee ballot to applicants.

According to the March 9 opinion and order issued by Judge Christopher M. Murray, Benson issued instructions that constituted “rules” without following the process for creating a formal rule under state and federal law.

Murray wrote that “the guidance issued by the Secretary of State on October 6, 2020, with respect to signature-matching standards was issued in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.”

The Michigan Republican Party and Allegan County Clerk Robert Genetski, who jointly filed their complaint prior to the Nov. 3 election, claimed the signature standards allowed for “invalid” ballots to be counted.

Murray noted in his opinion that Genetski, however, never claimed the “guidance caused him to accept a signature that he believed was invalid.”

Benson’s guidelines focused on signature verification of absentee ballot applications and their return envelopes, which were to be compared against each other as well as against signatures in qualified voter files.

Benson’s office said “that signature review ‘begins with the presumption that’ the signature on an absent voter ballot application or envelope is valid,” Murray wrote. The Secretary of State’s instructions to clerks further said signatures with any “redeeming qualities” — described as those having “similar distinctive flourishes” or those with “more matching features than nonmatching features” — should be validated.

Only signatures with “multiple significant and obvious” inconsistencies should be questioned, Benson advised, according to the judge’s analysis of the rule.

Murray determined the guidelines fell within the definition of an administrative rule and therefore should have been approved through the formal rule-making process, which requires multiple steps.

“An agency must utilize formal rulemaking procedures when establishing policies that ‘do not merely interpret or explain the statute or rules from which the agency derives its authority,’ but rather ‘establish the substantive standards implementing the program,’” Murray said, citing a 1998 precedent.

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The ruling leaves certain standards for accepting absentee ballot application signatures at the discretion of the local clerk, unless the Legislature created legal guidelines or the Secretary of State’s Office creates administrative rules for that determination.

The current law states any signatures on applications or return envelopes that don’t “agree sufficiently” with the voter signature on file should be rejected.

The Court of Claims judge noted Michigan law doesn’t clearly define what it means for a signature to “agree” or “agree sufficiently.”

Representatives from Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the ruling and it’s unclear if the Court of Claims decision will be appealed.

“We have no comment at this time,” Tracy Wimmer, an SOS spokeswoman said.

Clerks additionally compare signatures on absentee ballots with signatures on file before votes are counted during any election.

Fewer than 1 percent of Michigan’s 3.3 million absentee ballots cast in the Nov. 3 general election were rejected by local election clerks, according to data released by the Secretary of State’s office.

In total, 15,300 ballots were rejected by election officials for a variety of reasons, such as arriving after Election Day or not having a signature. In the August primary election, more than the 10,600 ballots were rejected.

Full Court of Claims opinion:

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CPAC

Trump aides have a list of topics they hope the ‘all over the place’ ex-president will keep to himself in CPAC speech

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According to Politico Playbook’s Tara Palmeri, aides to former Donald Trump have been working with him on his CPAC speech all week — to be delivered Sunday afternoon — and left one meeting wondering what will come out of his mouth once he gets going before an adoring crowd.

With an eye on keeping his hints of another presidential run in 2024 from being bogged down by more controversy and grievance-mongering over his belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him due to voter fraud, aides hope that he will stick to a script that preaches Republican Party unity.

According to the Politico report, Trump has been discussing the speech that will be his return to the public square since he lost re-election and, since he no longer has access to Twitter, aides fear that the pent-up Twitter commentary that used to keep him in the headlines will come pouring out.

As Palmeri writes, there is a list of topics advisers are hoping will not rise to the surface if the president goes off-script — which is highly likely.

Outside of complaining that he feels he was robbed of a second term due to voter fraud, the report states that his aides hope he won’t “Gripe about how he thinks he was unfairly blamed for Jan. 6,” with the NYT’s Maggie Haberman reporting, Trump has been “cautioned by advisers not to say anything that might make him a larger target for the various prosecutors considering or pursuing investigations related to him.”

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Additionally, his advisers are okay with him taking shots at Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), but want him to draw the line at publically criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), with Palmeri reporting, “A Trump adviser said they got Trump to take a McConnell dig out of the script, but who knows what he’ll say.”

She added, “Sources tell me that there was a lot of nodding and agreement at a strategy meeting on Thursday between Trump and his closest aides on how to wield his power via endorsements and messaging. But some left the room feeling like their hair was on fire because, according to one of the aides, Trump was ‘all over the place.'”
(Raw Story)

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