ATLANTA (AP) — An alarm linked to a motion sensor inside a warehouse in Atlanta where ballots from last year’s election are stored went off over the weekend but the ballots remained secure, officials said Tuesday.
The alarm at the Fulton County elections warehouse went off Saturday, and county Sheriff Patrick Labat said his office is investigating what triggered the motion sensor on the second floor. Answering questions from reporters during a news conference, Labat said he “absolutely would” call it a false alarm.
The sheriff stressed that the ballots stored at the warehouse are secured behind a door that has a separate alarm and that he is confident the ballots were secure at all times.
When the alarm went off, Labat said, off-duty Douglas County deputies working for a private security company and hired by a third party were onsite and entered the warehouse through an exterior door that was unlocked and did a security check.
“Whether it was right or wrong, improper or otherwise is yet to be determined,” Labat said, “But during that security check, they found a door that was unlocked.”
Bob Cheeley, a lawyer for a group of voters who have sued to examine Fulton County absentee ballots from the 2020 election to look for fraud, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had hired private security to watch the warehouse.
The judge presiding over that lawsuit last month agreed to unseal 147,000 mail ballots from Fulton County. He has said the county will retain custody of the ballots. A meeting scheduled for last week to discuss how the review would be conducted was canceled after Fulton County, the county election board and the county court clerk filed motions to dismiss the case.
The ballot review effort in Georgia is among several around the country pushed by supporters of former President Donald Trump and others who allege the 2020 election was marred by fraud. State and federal authorities have repeatedly said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.
Cheeley told the Journal-Constitution that Fulton County deputies patrolling the warehouse left before the alarm went off.
“I’m really concerned about their lackadaisical attitude toward security, particularly leaving the building unlocked,” he said.
Labat said there was a shift of deputies who left prior to the alarm sounding and that is part of the investigation that he expects to complete soon.
Trump seized on the incident after photos of the open exterior door circulated online, saying in an email to supporters on Monday that “we must not allow ANYONE to compromise these ballots by leaving the building unsecured.”
“Republicans and Patriots must protect this site and the Absentee Ballots,” Trump said. “The Left talks about election security but they do not practice what they preach because they are afraid of what might be found. Fulton County Leadership — do the right thing and protect these ballots.”
Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chair Robb Pitts, who has defended the county’s handling of the election and been critical of the effort to review the ballots, said the most important thing is that “the room where the ballots are kept was never breached or compromised.”
“The ballots remained safe, despite what some would have you believe,” Pitts said, adding that he couldn’t disclose much more because of current litigation and the ongoing investigation by the sheriff’s office that includes looking into “how the door was opened, who opened it and why.”
Kate Brumback, The Associated Press