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Text messages cast doubt on Georgia ‘burst pipe’ excuse

Officials in Georgia have not been able to produce any invoices or work orders related to a “burst pipe” at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena that was blamed for an abrupt pause in vote counting on election night.The only evidence for the burst pipe, released under freedom-of-information laws, was a text message exchange in which one…

Officials in Georgia have not been able to produce any invoices or work orders related to a “burst pipe” at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena that was blamed for an abrupt pause in vote counting on election night.

The only evidence for the burst pipe, released under freedom-of-information laws, was a text message exchange in which one senior employee at the stadium described it as “highly exaggerated … a slow leak that caused about an hour and a half delay” and that “we contained it quickly – it did not spread”.

“Beyond the lack of documentary evidence of the inspection or repair of a ruptured pipe, we are being asked to believe that there is not one single picture of this allegedly ruptured pipe, at a time and in a place where virtually everything is recorded and documented,” Georgia lawyer Paul Dzikowski, who obtained the text messages, told news.com.au in an email on Wednesday night.

The right-wing Gateway Pundit website first reported the story on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump mentioned the burst pipe in his speech last Friday, where he claimed key battleground states where he was leading Mr Biden suspiciously stopped counting on Tuesday night.

“In Georgia, a pipe burst in a far away location, totally unrelated to the location of what was happening and they stopped counting for four hours,” he said, in a claim that was disputed by fact checkers.

On Monday, Mr Dzikowski sent an open records request concerning the burst pipe to the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority – the state authority that owns State Farm Arena.

“Please produce … all ‘public records’ related to the burst pipe at State Farm Arena that occurred on or about November 3, 2020, which impacted the counting of ballots by Fulton County authorities, including and not limited to internal and external communications with any person(s), communications with Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections, memoranda, notes, work orders, requisitions, invoices, repair records, and all other public records,” Mr Dzikowski wrote.

AFCRA executive director Kerry Stewart responded less than half an hour later attaching “the only document responsive to your request” – a text message exchange between an unidentified person and Geoffrey Stiles, vice president of facilities for the Atlanta Hawks NBA team.

“I just heard a water pipe burst at SFA that will cause vote count delay. Has this affected the AFCRA office? I think they were counting votes next door,” the sender, believed by Mr Dzikowski to be Mr Stewart, wrote at 7.42pm.

“No sir – it was highly exaggerated – it was a slow leak that caused about an hour and a half delay,” Mr Stiles replied at 7.43pm. “We contained it quickly – it did not spread – we just wanted to protect the equipment.”

Mr Dzikowski submitted a similar request to Fulton County, which also came up empty.

“The Fulton County attorney’s office responded on behalf of the County and concluded there are ‘no responsive records’ related to the alleged burst pipe or water main break – which are two completely different things, by the way,” he said.

“‘Water main’ refers to high-volume transmission pipes running underground along road rights-of-way and outside the buildings, and a ‘pipe’ would refer to the distribution piping within the structure. Either way, I would expect there to be a host of records generated (texts, emails, work orders, interdepartmental pay requisitions, etc.) if there had been a serious water leak in a major sports arena.”

Mr Dzikowski, who spent “the better part of 10 years” as outside counsel to five different county and municipal governments, said he submitted the open records request “simply because I believed it would be the easiest way to either confirm or refute the Fulton County Board of Elections’ proffered reason for halting the counting of ballots”.

“Please understand that the Board’s decision to stop counting was unprecedented,” he said.

“There are many residents of Georgia, and Fulton County in particular, who doubt the official story. I simply wanted to know the answer for my own edification. I am a concerned citizen who is worried about the level of corruption that has taken hold at the local, state, and national levels in my country.”

News.com.au has contacted State Farm Arena for a response.

Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday evening that the pipe burst just after 6am and was repaired within two hours.

The newspaper noted that the burst pipe wasn’t mentioned by any county officials during a 10am press conference.

“As of 5pm, Fulton had scanned 86,191 of the 130,517 absentee-by-mail ballots received, which doesn’t include the ballots received in today’s mail,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote at the time.

“They planned to stop scanning absentee ballots at 10.30pm and pick it up back in the morning. No official could explain before press time why Fulton was stopping its count of absentee ballots at that time, only saying that was the procedure.”

There is no suggestion that the confusion around the pipe bursting story is linked to any claims of widespread voter fraud or other conspiracy theories.

State Republicans have also raised concerns about the election, particularly the vote counting process in Fulton County, which takes in the state capital and most populous city, Atlanta.

“Fulton County elections officials told the media and our observers that they were shutting down the tabulation centre at State Farm Arena at 10.30pm on election night only to continue counting ballots in secret until 1am,” Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said on Twitter earlier this week.

“No one disputes that Fulton County elections officials falsely announced that the counting of ballots would stop at 10.30pm. No one disputes that Fulton County elected officials unlawfully resumed the counting of ballots after our observers left the centre.”

It comes after Georgia, a key battleground state where Joe Biden narrowly defeated Mr Trump by just 0.3 percentage points, ordered a full hand recount and audit of the vote.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced on Wednesday that so far 97 counties had sent their final numbers, with Mr Biden leading Mr Trump by 14,111 votes out of just under 4.93 million in the state.

The Republican official, who has come under heavy fire from his own party over his handling of the election, said he would implement a “risk-limiting audit” of the presidential race after the final county certifications.

“With the margin being so close, it will require a full, by-hand recount in each county,” Mr Raffensperger said. “This will help build confidence. It will be an audit, a recount and a recanvass, all at once.”

Georgia, which has 16 electoral college votes, must certify its results by next Friday, November 20. “It will be a heavy lift, but we will work with the counties to get this done in time for our state certification,” Mr Raffensperger said.

He denied he was ordering the recount because the Trump campaign had requested it, saying “no, we’re doing this because it makes the most sense”.

“When you have five million votes and the margin is so close, 14,000, if we pulled out 10,000 votes, all of the sudden you could say, well this is the person that won,” he said.

“You pull out 100,000, it says this person won. You pull out a million, this person won. And that’s why mathematically you actually have to do a full by-hand recount because the margin is so close.”

After the hand recount, the loser can request a second recount by machine.

Even if Georgia’s result flipped – which has only happened in three out of 31 statewide recounts since 2000, all with margins of under 300 votes – Mr Biden would still have enough electoral college votes to win the White House.

The Trump campaign has made as-yet-unproven allegations of voter fraud and other irregularities.

One lawsuit last week seeking to disqualify around 50 mail-in ballots, which a Republican observer claimed had arrived after the deadline, was thrown out by a judge.

On Wednesday, the Trump campaign came out with fresh allegations of dead people casting votes in Georgia, citing a handful of newspaper obituaries and voter records.

“Mrs Deborah Jean Christiansen of Roswell, Georgia was registered to vote on October 5,” the campaign said in a statement.

“Then she voted in the election. The only problem? She passed away a year and a half ago, in May 2019. Sadly, Mrs Christiansen is a victim of voter fraud.”

Mr Raffensperger has not yet responded to the Trump campaign’s latest claims. During his press conference on Wednesday, he insisted all allegations would be looked into but defended the state’s election workers.

“My office will continue to investigate each and every instance of illegal voting,” he said. “Double voting, felon voting, people voting out of state – if you report it, we will investigate it. We will continue to follow and enforce the law.”

He said election workers “are the ones that do the hard work on the ground of making sure that all legal votes will be counted”.

“Their job is hard, they executed their responsibilities, and they did their job,” he said.

“These men and women, and my office, will continue to follow the law and count every legal vote. We have all worked hard to bring fair and accurate counts to ensure that the will of the voters is reflected in the final count and that every voter will have confidence in the outcome whether their candidate won or lost.”

frank.chung@news.com.au

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