True the Vote's complaint offered Raffensperger's office access to what are characterized as detailed phone records and surveillance video it said would show as many as 242 people repeatedly made trips to the drop boxes to deliver ballots in what it described as a mass "ballot trafficking operation." The aspect of the complaint that the secretary's office believed merited attention was the allegation the group had spoken to a man who admitted he and others engaged in ballot harvesting.
Using a tactic increasingly used by the FBI and the intelligence community to solve crimes or national security threats, the group said it bought commercially available geospatial mobile device data showing the locations of suspected ballot harvesters' cell phones in the vicinity of the ballot drop boxes at the times people appeared on the surveillance footage stuffing multiple ballots into a drop box.
The phone data bought by True the Vote overlaid with video suggested 242 people engaged in a total of 5,662 ballot drops, an average of 23 runs per alleged harvester, the group alleged in the complaint.
The group told Raffensperger's office the video surveillance — though sometimes grainy and distant — showed numerous instances of people stuffing large numbers of ballots into the boxes, some with so many ballots in hand that some of the envelopes dropped to the ground. Some people were allegedly observed taking pictures of themselves at the boxes after delivering ballots, an action the group said may have been required to receive payments.
The group said many of the alleged drops — more than 40% of those observed on tape — occurred between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., when most Georgians were asleep.
The group also said in its complaint it temporarily secured the cooperation of one person, identified in the complaint as John Doe, who admitted he participated in extensive ballot harvesting during the November 2020 election and Jan. 5 runoffs and was paid $10 for each ballot he collected from a voter and delivered to a box. The man did not appear to understand his harvesting activities were illegal, but his participation was verified by his repeated appearance on the surveillance tapes, the group said.
"John Doe described a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that worked together to facilitate a ballot trafficking scheme in Georgia," the group said in its complaint.
"John Doe's assignment included collecting ballots, both from voters in targeted neighborhoods and from NGOs that had their own ballot collection processes, delivering those ballots to other NGOs, picking up designated ballot bundles from the same group of NGOs, and depositing ballots into drop boxes spanning six counties in the metro Atlanta area," the group added.
"Each drop box delivery would typically include between 5 to 20 ballots," the complaint alleged. "John Doe described a payment validation process which involved taking cell phone pictures of the drop box where ballots were deposited."
The group's complaint did not identify John Doe by name, the nonprofits involved or other participants. Raffensperger's office is expected to use subpoenas to secure that specific information as part of the probe, officials said.
The harvesting allegations also are likely to refocus attention on the decision by Georgia and other states to distribute mobile drop boxes to collect ballots for the first time in the 2020 election as voters struggled with the pandemic and fears of voting in person.
Some critics have wrongly suggested Raffensperger created the use of drop boxes in Georgia out of whole cloth as part of a legal settlement he signed with Democratic voting activist Stacey Abrams and other advocates.
In fact, Georgia's law for years permitted counties to deploy absentee ballot drop boxes, but none did. "The board of registrars may establish additional sites … for the purpose of receiving absentee ballots," the existing law stated.
When liberal activists pressed in 2020 to get the boxes deployed, Raffensperger and the State Elections Board passed an emergency rule to add some protections, such as a requirement that the drop boxes be covered by surveillance cameras.
Ironically, it is that protection that gave rise to the evidence at the heart of True the Vote's complaint.