A Chatham County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit in which the Trump campaign and the Georgia Republican Party alleged elections workers mishandled 53 absentee ballots.

Judge James Bass Sr. during the Thursday hearing.

After more than an hour of evidence and testimony by the Georgia Republican Party, the Trump Campaign, the Georgia Democratic Party and the Chatham County Board of Registrars chairman, Judge James F. Bass Jr. announced his decision in eight words. 

“I’m denying the request and dismissing the petition,” said Bass, a 69-year-old judge who has served on the bench in Chatham County for a quarter of a century.

Left, GOP poll watcher Sean Pumphrey testifies during the hearing. At right, Trump campaign lawyer Jonathan Crumly, Sr. , listens.

The lawsuit, filed late afternoon Wednesday by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., and the Georgia GOP, stated that two poll watchers, Jackson Carter and Sean Pumphrey, saw an election worker mix stacks of absentee ballots in contravention of proper procedure. During the court hearing, the Trump Campaign lawyers argued that the actions indicated that the vote counts could have been contaminated by ballots which had arrived after Election Day. 

The legal team also questioned the security measures taken by local poll officials who are handling an unprecedented number of mail-in and absentee ballots due in large part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, they provided few details to illustrate their argument in the live-streamed video hearing watched live by more than 5,000 people. 

For the lawsuit, the Trump campaign was represented by three lawyers from Atlanta and one from Washington D.C. The Georgia Republican Party was represented by three lawyers from Atlanta. Also present was Chatham County attorney Jonathan Hart. Benjamin Perkins of OIiver Maner LLP in Savannah represented the Board of Elections. Lawyer Jeffrey Harris filed an injunction on behalf of the Democratic Party of Georgia early Wednesday before the hearing. 

In addition to questioning the processing of absentee ballots, Trump Campaign lawyer Jonathan Crumly Sr. voiced concern about the transfer of ballots from secured drop boxes to the location where votes are tabulated.

Photo showing absentee drop box at W.W. Law Center being emptied and locked at 7 p.m. Election Day. Photo provided at hearing via live stream.

“There was not clear evidence of how Chatham County Board of Registrars was handling the intake and storage of absentee ballots,” Crumly said.

For the Presidential Election, Chatham voters had the option of dropping their absentee ballot in one of nine secure ballot drop boxes within the county’s 623 square miles. The county only had one dropbox for previous elections. The new secure ballot boxes were added with the authorization of the secretary of state’s office earlier this summer.

During cross examination, Pumphrey and Carter testified that neither knew when the 53 ballots had arrived at the board of elections. But they were concerned about their provenance and the chain of custody.

Colin McRae, who has chaired the Board of Registrars for the past 12 years, responded with a detailed explanation about the ballots multi-layered process of verifying and processing and recording ballots. 

He explained late ballots, those that arrived after 7 p.m. on Election Day, could not have been mixed in with the rest of the ballots because they are time-stamped and stored separately in a banker’s box inside an office inside the Board of Elections building. 

McRae said 41 late ballots had been received as of Thursday morning. Those ballots  had been rejected and were not being counted, he said. Any additional ballots received via the U.S. Postal Service would also be rejected, he said, as required by state law.

Crumly seized on the number of late-arriving ballots, calling it “inexplicably low,” considering the county tallied nearly 500 late ballots in the November 2018 election. He also took issue with how late ballots were stored. 

Box where late-arriving ballots are kept. Photo provided in live stream testimony.

“It’s a cardboard box with no tamper evidence, paper or any other security in place to preserve the integrity that’s valid and ensure that no ballots within that and cardboard boxes are included in the legal ballots that should be tabulated,” he said.

McRae said the box of ballots is behind several locked doors and inside a secure building.

“This argument related to the box that is in the office that contains the rejected ballots is I mean, it’s a red herring,” he said. “And given all that, there is no basis for (this) order to require the Board of Registrars to do what it’s already done.”

From left to right, Colin McRae, chairman of Chatham County Board of Registrars; Benjamin M. Perkins representing Chatham County Board of Elections; Sabrina German, assistant director of chatham County Board of Elections.

Sabrina German, assistant elections supervisor, laid out the specifics of what happened with the 53 ballots in question.

“Those are the absentee ballots that did not appear on the actual list of voters or the manifest that we had to take to the elections office and we had to do further research on those absentee ballots,” German explained, adding that there were various issues, such as cancelled ballots, voters not registered with the state, with those ballots that needed to be addressed before they were tabulated. “So we had to actually look at the folders one by one on a case by case basis to enter and give them credit for vote.”

One set of processing forms for a batch of absentee ballots.

Before the judge dismissed the case, Harris, who represented Georgia’s Democratic Party, said testimony from Pumphrey and Carter was “unpersuasive.”

When the pair of Republicans said they did not know whether the 53 ballots in question had been received on time, “that’s the end of this,” Harris said.

“There is literally no competent evidence before this court that there are ballots that have been cast after 7 p.m. that are being counted,” he said. “They have flatly been incapable of proffering competent evidence to prove that point.”

Laura Corley is an investigative reporter who has covered public safety and government and education in her home state of Georgia since 2014. At The (Macon) Telegraph, Laura used open records requests...