Biden’s razor-thin late lead sets up legal, recount challenge

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, traveled to Atlanta Friday to announce that the committee has dispatched lawyers to Georgia and three other states. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Updated 8:30 a.m. Saturday

A recount became increasingly likely in Georgia as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s slim lead over President Donald Trump grew to about 7,000 votes Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign and Republicans are laying the groundwork for legal challenges in a once reliably red state that hasn’t helped put a Democrat in the White House in almost three decades.

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, traveled to Atlanta Friday to announce that the committee has dispatched lawyers to Georgia and three other states.

“We are not going to jump the gun, but (the irregularities) are serious and we want to take a look at them before we go out and push that until we fully vet them and make sure they’re real,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel offered no specifics, other than to say they were looking into about “six or seven” claims of voting irregularities in Georgia. She was joined Friday by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, lame-duck Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones and Atlanta attorney L. Lin Wood.

A GOP lawsuit filed in Chatham County targeting absentee ballots was dismissed by a judge earlier this week.

“I’m calling on the Secretary of State, I’m calling on the governor, I’m calling on the Legislature of Georgia – prior to any kind of certification of these elections to make sure they are fair, accurate and that every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is cast out,” Perdue said.

But Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff said earlier in the day that’s exactly what they are doing. The process of counting votes – which was complicated this year by a historic number of absentee paper ballots during a pandemic – continues in Georgia as the final ballots are tallied.

“Georgia voters deserve accurate, real election results,” Raffensperger said Friday. “Election workers around the state are working with integrity to ensure every legal ballot is counted and no illegal ballots are counted.”

As of about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, only about 7,200 votes separated Biden and Trump. That’s out of nearly 5 million total votes cast in Georgia. Friday was the last day to resolve provisional ballots or fix absentee ballot errors; it was also the last day for military and overseas ballots to arrive to be counted.

“With a margin that small, there will be, likely, a recount in Georgia,” Raffensperger said. “Interest in our election obviously goes far beyond our borders. The final tally in Georgia, at this point, has huge implications for the entire country.

“The stakes are high, and the emotions are high on all sides. We will not let those debates distract us from our work. We will get it right and we will defend the integrity of our elections,” he said.

The state’s voting system implementation manager, Gabriel Sterling, said the state was not seeing widespread irregularities. But he also clarified that, with a margin of victory so slim, even small-scale issues could prove consequential. Sterling said every report will be investigated fully.

On top of that, the votes will go through a certification process that ensures all ballots are accounted for across the state. The state’s audit, he said, then becomes the “part of the bedrock of trust.”

Local election officials have until Nov. 13 to certify the results and the state’s deadline to certify is Nov. 20. But Sterling said he hoped for a faster turnaround to give way sooner for a likely recount. A candidate can request a recount when they are within a half a percent of the winner’s vote haul.

As of this year, Georgia’s new $104 million election equipment now provides a paper trail, with in-person voters printing a paper ballot based on their electronic touch screen selections.

Georgia’s top Republican leaders – Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston, also issued a joint statement Friday as the president cast doubt on the integrity of the vote in states where votes were still being tallied.

“Free and fair elections are the foundation of our American government. Any allegations of intentional fraud or violations of election law must be taken seriously and investigated,” they said in the statement.

“We trust that our Secretary of State will ensure that the law is followed as written and that Georgia’s election result includes all legally-cast ballots — and only legally-cast ballots. We will continue to follow this situation to ensure a fair and transparent process.”