Power Line reader Matthew Mashburn (mmashburn at georgia-elections.com) is a member of Georgia’s State Board of Elections. He offers the following account of election night as he saw it in Fulton County, Mr. Mashburn writes:
Since I was at Fulton County Tabulations on Election Night and watched the story behind the Suitcase Video unfold in real time right in front of me, I hope to shed some additional light for your readers on The Night when the Lights Went Back On in Georgia.
On Election Day, I had visited a number of precincts and I had been at the tabulation center in Cobb County for many hours. After leaving Cobb, I drove to the Fulton County Tabulation Center on English Avenue around 7:00 p.m. and took up my usual spot to watch tabulations where I have stood for nearly every election since Fulton Election Tabulation moved to English Avenue (i.e., easily more than ten years).
Around 10:00 p.m. there was, indeed, a rumor circulating at English Avenue that a water main had failed at State Farm Arena. “It’s always something.” was my thought at the time. It turns out, as it usually does with first reports of rumors from a scene, that the rumors are either wrong or “only partially right” enough to leave an incorrect impression (we have to leave because of an ongoing water main break) but still with a kernel of truth (there was overflowing water and it caused a mess that had to be cleaned up earlier in the day).
The workers were tired because they had been at it all day and in addition had dealt with overflowing water that created a mess and wanted to go home. Fulton Chief Registrar Ralph Jones, who was over at State Farm Arena, and Fulton Elections Director Richard Barron, who was where I was at English Avenue, had a discussion over the telephone. Mr. Barron hung up the phone and said, “We’re counting again at State Farm” or words unmistakably to that effect.
I heard Mr. Barron say it very clearly from where I was at least thirty feet away, so I don’t know why or how anyone in between where he was and where I was could not have heard him or could have misunderstood him. Thus, I was in a different building several miles away from State Farm Arena and I knew in real time that Fulton had started back up counting at State Farm Arena.
There are still a lot of questions about that night to which I still don’t know the answers. I don’t know why the party’s monitors who were at English Avenue were not in contact with their counterparts at State Farm Arena to compare notes about what was going on. I don’t know why the party’s monitors at State Farm Arena did not stay to watch everything get closed up and the lights turned off even if they were told everybody was leaving or even if they were instructed to get out.
I stayed at English Avenue until past 3:00 a.m. Wednesday. When we left everybody left. I know because I was the last person out of the building. I made sure they had turned out the lights, set the alarm, and locked the door behind me. Once the door was locked, I pulled on the door to make sure that the lock was true.
We followed that same closing procedure for the Senate Runoff except that for the Senate Runoff after I observed the closing of English Avenue, I took the added step of driving to the World Congress Center where the counting was being done this time and made sure that it was closed down as well. I even held the doors open so that all the monitors, as they exited, could verify that no one was left behind in the counting area of the World Congress Center except the armed security guards.
As to why Fulton County didn’t call the Republican monitors back to State Farm Arena on Election Night, a simple answer is usually the most accurate and probably is here as well. No monitor in the entire time I’ve been monitoring tabulations has ever provided his telephone number to the tabulation center workers either as they were leaving or otherwise. Fulton County didn’t call the Republican monitors back as they started back up most likely because they simply didn’t have their phone numbers.
It is true that the media relations people at Fulton County have the election reporters’ phone numbers. I do not know what conversations, if any, went on between Fulton County media relations personnel and the reporters when the counting restarted.
I don’t recall whether the media were in close proximity to Mr. Barron when he had his call with Mr. Jones and announced “We’re counting again at State Farm” for anyone and everyone at English Avenue to hear. I don’t pay much attention to what the media people are doing while I am watching tabulations; most times they come in, they do their shots and they leave.
However, I knew that Fulton County had restarted counting at State Farm Arena on Election Night. And I can’t imagine that everybody there monitoring at English Avenue (and at the time, there were still plenty) wouldn’t have known it and wouldn’t have informed their counterparts unless they just assumed (mistakenly as it turns out) that their colleagues must have known too.
If the restarted counting at State Farm Arena was really intended to have been done in secret, it was the worst kept secret in history because it was fully known, in real time, by me and everyone else in the public access area at the Fulton County Tabulation Center on English Avenue several miles away.