Biden’s Georgia momentum grows as county poll workers recount votes

Auditors unpack absentee ballots in Macon on the first day of Georgia's 2020 presidential election statewide hand count. Grant Blankenship/GPB News

County election officials across the state Friday began the tedious work of manually recounting the nearly 5 million ballots cast for president as the first major networks called Georgia for Democrat Joe Biden.

By Friday afternoon, NBC, ABC and CNN had all called Georgia’s race for Biden more than a week and a half after the last voters cast a ballot last Tuesday, causing state Democrats to celebrate anew. The Associated Press has not called the race, with dozens of counties still certifying their results late Friday and Georgia only one day into its six-day audit process.

President Donald Trump has not conceded or accepted the results in a state he won by 5 points just four years ago. His campaign told supporters in Georgia during a call Friday the fight was not over, even as Biden held his 14,000-vote lead over Trump. A Democrat hasn’t claimed Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes since 1992, when the state backed Bill Clinton.

“The battle in Georgia is still waging,” Georgia Congressman Doug Collins said on the call. “I do not care what CNN or anybody else said today about this state being called. We are still actively pursuing all measures.”

But the Biden campaign remained confident that the ongoing recount would not change the results. Political science experts have also said the recount is not likely to reverse the outcome.

“We are confident that the outcome following this recount will be the same and that is that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States of America and Kamala Harris will be the next vice president of the United States of America,” said Tharon Johnson with Biden’s state campaign. “And we feel very confident that they’re going to be able to say – and all of us in Georgia – that they won Georgia.”

The nonpartisan Carter Center, which normally monitors elections in troubled countries, also announced Friday that it will send staff to counties in Georgia to monitor the audit. The Atlanta-based center was founded by former president and Georgia native Jimmy Carter to advance peace worldwide.

“What we’re monitoring is what many people have been calling the hand recount. Because the margin in the presidential race is so close, this sort of audit essentially requires review of every ballot by hand,” said Paige Alexander, the center’s CEO.

“This is unusual, but it provides an opportunity to build trust in the electoral system prior to the state’s certification of results,” she said.

Some small counties had already finished the audit Friday. The state’s largest county – Fulton County – plans to start its hand count early Saturday morning. Richard Barron, the county’s elections director, told the local election board Friday that the county would tackle the audit with 125 two-person teams with the goal of wrapping up the work by Monday – two days before the state-imposed deadline.

The state’s own deadline to certify results is next Friday. Once complete, the losing candidate can still request an official recount if the margin is still within 0.5%, but that would be done by rescanning all the ballots.

Georgia’s 159 counties will bear the cost of the hand count, but the total cost is not yet clear. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that DeKalb County’s cost alone is expected to be about $180,000.

Election officials are marshalling resources for this recount as campaigning heats up for Georgia’s pair of U.S. Senate races that could decide if Democrats control all three branches of government. Already, voters can request an absentee ballot. A record number of Georgians – about 1.3 million – just voted by absentee ballot to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson, a Lithonia Democrat, shrugged off speculation Friday that Biden’s success in Georgia potentially had more to do with the electorate’s disdain for the sitting president than any lasting shift to the left.

“It was the work of a new coalition in Georgia. The new South – Georgia leads the new South and this new coalition, which consists of Black and brown people, Asian-Americans and forward-thinking white people, went to the polls in record numbers and voted in a Democratic president for the first time in 30 years,” Johnson said during an interview on MSNBC shortly after networks called the race.