National News

City employee's claims spark fraud investigation of Atlanta mayoral run-off election

Posted June 23, 2018 11:10 a.m. EDT

— Last December, the Atlanta mayor's race went to a run-off and Keisha Lance-Bottoms won by 832 votes. With such a small margin, even the slightest allegations of voter fraud could make an impact.

The details were incidentally uncovered as part of a sexual harassment complaint at city hall. Records obtained by CBS46 show Atlanta Constituent Services employee Judith Richards accused her supervisor, Mark Henderson, of workplace violations in January.

The majority of her complaint was about harassment, but a small portion is now the focus of the Georgia Secretary of State's investigation.

The relevant passage reads:

"Mark told me I also had to campaign for Keisha Lance Bottoms because our jobs depended on it.

Mark had me pick up absentee ballots from Keisha Lance Bottoms' headquarters, drop them off at Fulton County Elections Office during business hours, which is against the City's rules and unethical.

Mark had me print and deliver 500 blank absentee ballots to a lady from the Urban League outside a building near Hurt Plaza down by Georgia State. I delivered the blank ballots to the lady outside on the street. The ballots were in a box. This was all done during business hours because I was directed to."

If any of those things are true, they are, at best, unethical, and at worst, illegal because no one outside the Fulton County Elections Department is supposed to handle absentee ballots except the voters themselves.

The city's sexual harassment investigation concluded both Richards and Henderson were guilty of violating several policies, and they were suspended. It made no ruling on the absentee ballot portion of the complaint.

Richards' paid suspension began on January 29 and it has since ended.

The Atlanta Mayor's Office had no response to the accusations.

We consulted Bryan Sells, an election lawyer in Atlanta, and based solely on seeing Richards' written statement, he believes she probably misspoke.

"They can print out absentee ballot applications, which anyone can print off the web, and it's not illegal to print, but you can't actually print the ballot itself," explained Sells.

Sells points out that absentee ballots are embedded with unique codes. It would take a master counterfeiter with sophisticated equipment and inside knowledge of the Fulton County Elections Department to do what Richards is describing.

Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron said the employee's claims "have no basis in fact or an understanding of basic election procedures."

Barron is convinced that if the acts described by Richards were perpetrated in real life, his office would have spotted the fraud immediately.

Keisha Lance Bottom's spokesperson responded Friday, saying, "At no point did the campaign direct any City of Atlanta employee, intern, or representative to pick up, transport, deliver or handle any ballot of any kind. Nor did the campaign pressure any City of Atlanta employee, intern, or representative to conduct campaign activity in order to retain their employment."

As of Friday, the Georgia Secretary of State's Office's investigation was still active.