Note: The Current will update this story throughout Thursday to reflect changing numbers and updates to court filing’s status.
SAVANNAH – The Georgia Republican Party and the Trump Campaign filed suit Wednesday against the Chatham County Board of Elections after a party election observer reported a perceived mishandling of approximately 50 absentee ballots.
The lawsuit came as county election officials around the state were tabulating and processing some 61,000 outstanding absentee and mail-in ballots, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office as of 10 a.m. Thursday. The national presidential race was still too tight to call in Georgia, and President Donald Trump held a lead over former Vice President Joe Biden by approximately 18,500 votes.
The court filing alleges that Chatham election workers illegally mixed absentee ballots that might have arrived after polls closed in the county on Election Day with those absentee and mail-in ballots which had arrived prior to that deadline Tuesday. It requests absentee ballots received after 7 p.m. Nov. 3 in Chatham County be set aside and secured until a judge can rule on whether the proper chain of custody was followed.
Chatham County election officials immediately denied any impropriety, citing a robust system of checks in place, as mandated by Georgia election law.
A judicial hearing was set for Thursday morning. Georgia election law calls for a superior court judge in each judicial circuit to be on call to handle allegations of voting irregularities. Poll workers in Chatham County are expected to process more ballots on Thursday morning, according to a person familiar with the schedule.
The Georgia lawsuit is part of a wave of legal challenges that the national Republican Party have made in battleground states where President Trump’s victory appears shaky. Weeks ahead of Election Day, the president often opined, without evidence, that massive fraud could be possible.
David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and former state senator from Duluth, took to Twitter late afternoon Wednesday alleging an “observer” for the party had witnessed “an unidentifiable woman mix over 50 ballots into the stack of uncounted absentee ballots.”
The allegation set off a storm of criticism and confusion on Twitter as Georgians waited anxiously for national, state and local races to be called. In a matter of a few hours, Shafer’s tweet had been shared more than 3,600 times and garnered more than 5,300 likes.
Chatham County Elections Supervisor Russell Bridges was still at work early evening Wednesday at the Board of Elections building. He was not aware of Shafer’s Tweet or the lawsuit until a reporter from The Current asked him about it.
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Bridges said after reading the Tweet. “If he was observing something in our absentee center, there is a control on everything that moves through that building. There’s a log of every ballot that’s going in there and a log of every ballot that’s processed. If somebody was mixing something or moving something, it was already recorded and accounted for.”
A call to the phone number listed in Shaffer’s Tweet was not answered. No one answered the Georgia Republican Party’s main phone number.
The lawsuit, apparently filed within hours of the alleged ballot mishandling Wednesday, said Sean Pumphrey, a Richmond County, Georgia, poll watcher who lives in South Carolina, saw a Chatham elections worker mishandle absentee ballots.
The Current was unable to confirm whether the woman whose name is listed in the court document works for the Board of Elections.