Georgia Judge Says Poll Observers Must Be Able to Stand Within 10 Feet From Counting Tables

January 6, 2021 Updated: January 6, 2021

As ballot counting is underway for the Georgia runoff election, a judge in Fulton County on Tuesday night handed a small victory to Republicans by solidifying an agreement that affords poll observers better access to view the counting of absentee ballots.

The agreement, known as a consent agreement, was made between Fulton County election officials, the county’s Republican Party, non-partisan organization the National Defense Committee, and Sean Kilbane, a Republican observer.

It was made after the Republicans and the National Defense Committee sued (pdf) county officials over allegations that the county had failed its transparency obligations under election law to allow observers to view the counting and signature verification process as well as the process for duplicating absentee ballots.

They alleged that their observers were barred from monitoring the absentee ballot process, “concealing work behind secrecy cubicles and by keeping the monitors outside the unlawful perimeter fence more than 20 ft. away from any processing activities,” the complaint said (pdf).

The agreement states that “at all times during which absentee ballot processes are taking place, Defendants shall allow credentialed monitors to view absentee and [Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act] ballots, at least 10 feet away from processing tables, inside the steel barriers, as they are processed.”

“Defendants shall allow the credentialed monitors to observe the process of absentee ballot signature verification from the general public observation area consistent with [state election law] and the guidance of the Secretary of State in Official Election Bulletin dated Dec. 9, 2020.”

The agreement and order also required election officials to remove blue-opaque tri-fold barriers that obstructed views.

Georgia held two runoff elections on Tuesday that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) faced Democrat Raphael Warnock, while Republican David Perdue was being challenged by Democrat candidate Jon Ossoff.

As of early Wednesday, the runoff race was too close to call, but Warnock, who was leading by about 40,000 votes with 98 percent of the votes counted, gave what appeared to be a victory speech, saying he had “proved that with hope, hard work, and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

“So Georgia I am honored by the faith that you’ve shown in me and I promise you this: tonight I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia,” he said. Loeffler told a crowd that “we have a path to victory and we’re staying on it.”

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