Georgia’s exhausting election recount reaffirms Biden’s track to electoral win

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger plans to move forward with certification of Georgia's election results Friday, which narrowly awarded the state's 16 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden over President Donald Trump. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder (Nov. 4)

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger plans to certify the presidential election Friday after a recount of Georgia’s 5 million votes confirmed that President-elect Joe Biden narrowly edged out President Donald Trump.

The painstaking ballot hand count to audit the presidential election showed Biden received nearly 13,000 more votes than Trump in their contest for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, prompting the Associated Press to call the state for Biden late Thursday. Lawsuits and recounts are still likely in Georgia and other states where the vote is close, but challenges so far are not reversing a presumed Biden victory.

While the audit results won’t be the official tally, the state’s election chief said it shows that Georgia’s 159 counties’ initial results for the Nov. 3 general election are accurate enough that the outcome won’t change.

Raffensperger ordered the full hand recount of the presidential race after the initial machine count of ballots showed Biden won by about 14,000 votes.

Recounting during the audit of the presidential race turned up nearly 6,000 ballots in several counties, which brought Trump 1,400 votes closer to Biden. Raffensperger said that the audit’s discrepancies are well below the expected difference between a hand count and machine count, which typically is less than 1.5%. 

And the vast majority of Georgia’s counties showed either no change or differed by fewer than 10 votes from their original tally. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is supposed to sign off on Biden’s Georgia electors by 5 p.m. Saturday, according to state law.

“Georgia’s historic first statewide audit reaffirmed that the state’s new secure paper ballot voting system accurately counted and reported results,” Raffensperger said. “This is a credit to the hard work of our county and local elections officials who moved quickly to undertake and complete such a momentous task in a short period of time.”

State law requires an audit after a Georgia election, but because of the close race between Biden and Trump, Raffensperger also ordered a hand count of every vote cast in the presidential election. 

Thursday night Raffensperger said the results of the massive recount in all 159 Georgia counties show that the state’s new $104 million voting system is working as designed. The Republican spent the last week fielding death threats, fending off allegations of fraud from his own party and demands from Georgia’s GOP U.S. Senators that he resign.

Still, the full-blown recount did little to tamp down unsubstantiated claims from many Trump supporters and his legal team pushing conspiracy theories that voting fraud was widespread in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, swing states that helped propel Biden to victory.

Trump is expected to request Georgia counties to add up the ballots a third time, since Biden won by less than .5%, a process that requires running paper ballots through high-speed scanners. The deadline to request the recount is two business days after the election is certified.

The president appears poised to continue to press his case to remain in office through the courts as well. 

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said Thursday during an hour and a half press conference framed as an opening argument for the campaign’s multi-state legal challenge that the “recount being done in Georgia will tell us nothing because these fraudulent ballots will just be counted again,” referring to absentee paper ballots. 

Giuliani said the Trump campaign planned to file a “major lawsuit” in Georgia Friday just as state elections officials are set to certify the election results. He said the lawsuit would raise complaints filed in other states, including the access of GOP observers to see absentee ballot processing up close and a re-verifying of signatures. A record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Atlanta attorney and Trump supporter L. Lin Wood failed to convince a federal judge to approve a last-minute temporary restraining order that would stop the state from certifying the election results. Wood stood alongside RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel earlier this month vowing to look for election irregularities in Georgia. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Thursday evening, a federal district court judge denied a temporary restraining order filed by Trump supporter and Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, that raised questions about the integrity of absentee ballots and sought to stop the state election certification process. 

The audit uncovered about 5,900 missing votes in Fayette, Floyd, Walton and Douglas counties, providing Republican Trump supporters more fodder to cast doubt on Biden’s win.

Raffensperger’s office said the votes discovered during the audit were missed in the initial machine count because county workers did not properly upload memory cards containing ballots. In Floyd, county election workers missed multiple verification steps, resulting in 2,755 paper ballots that didn’t get scanned. Floyd officials fired the election director Thursday.

2018 governor election vs 2020 presidential election

Georgia’s 2020 election win for Democrat Biden is the first time that a Republican presidential candidate did not win the Peach State since Bill Clinton narrowly edged former president George H.W. Bush here in 1992.

The election controversy playing out now in Georgia echoes the razor-thin 2018 gubernatorial election when then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams by 55,000 votes. 

In the aftermath of the election, Abrams created the voter rights organization Fair Fight, credited with playing a significant role in registering enough new voters to spark Biden’s upset victory and force both of Georgia’s sitting U.S. Senators into runoffs.

Raffenspeger’s office has fought a litany of lawsuits from voting rights groups like Fair Fight and the American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly making it hard for minorities to vote. Now, he’s getting praise by a group of Black church leaders who credit him for not succumbing to pressure from fellow Republicans and ensuring every vote is accurately counted.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and about a dozen church officials gathered Thursday at the state Capitol to urge Black people to vote in the two Senate runoffs pitting GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff and appointed GOP U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock. 

They said it’s not hypocritical to question the integrity of the 2018 election and support this month’s outcome. In 2018, they said, there was plenty of evidence of voter suppression in the form of an “exact match” name protocol that disproportionately affected minority voters and too few polling places in many predominantly Black neighborhoods.

“Georgia was the laughingstock of the nation in the last election,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald III of Atlanta’s First Iconium Baptist Church. “For the first time in history, the person who was running for (the governor’s) office was also responsible for counting the votes.”

Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for Raffenspger, said on Wednesday that it’s likely there would be challenges from Democrats if Trump won a close race in Georgia.

That’s why it’s essential to have election transparency so that Georgians can trust how elections are operated, he said.

“The parties need to have faith in the outcome of these elections, whether they win or whether they lose, because that’s the bedrock of how we have a transfer of power and how people feel like they’re being governed appropriately,” Sterling said. 

Raffensperger said this week that Trump’s persistent claims that voters mailing absentee ballots created path for widespread fraud might have ultimately cost the president Georgia’s 16 electoral votes.

About 24,000 Republicans who voted via absentee ballots in the June primary did not vote in the Nov. 3 general election.

“He would have won by 10,000 votes,” Raffensperger said in an interview with Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “He actually depressed, suppressed his own voting base.” 

Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report. 

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.