Election officials hope third time’s a charm as recount set to start Tuesday

Auditors unpack absentee ballots in Macon on Nov. 13, the first day of Georgia's 2020 presidential election statewide hand count. President Donald Trump has since requested another recount after official election results have him losing to President-elect Joe Biden by fewer than 13,000 votes. Grant Blankenship/GPB News

Post updated at 7:52 a.m. Nov. 24 

Georgia’s county election offices can start counting the presidential race ballots Tuesday morning for the third time, with the goal to wrap up by the end of Dec. 2.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office announced the timeline Monday to run each of the 5 million ballots through high-speed scanners to get a final recount of the razor-thin margin of 12,670 votes separating President-elect Joe Biden from Presidential Donald Trump.

After Raffensperger certified Biden’s victory on Friday, Trump requested the recount, following an intensive full hand count ordered by Raffensperger that showed little significant difference from the initial electronic tally.

The scanned recount is limited by the number of scanners available in each county, unlike the hand count where elections offices could have dozens of people reviewing the ballots simultaneously, Sterling said.

Sterling said it’s highly unlikely that the race’s outcome will change after the paper ballots are re-scanned through the state’s new voting system.

“We want to give everybody enough time to actually get it done properly,” he said. “It’s not as easy as you just throw all these ballots back in the machine.”

An election staff recount team will handle the ballots while political parties can assign people to monitor the recount. There will also be an adjudication team composed of a Republican, Democrat and election official who’ll sort through disputed ballots.

This recount won’t involve reverifying voters’ signatures on absentee ballot envelopes by comparing them to their voter registration files, something that’s been repeatedly advocated for by Trump and Republicans Gov. Brian Kemp and Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

Unless a judge orders rechecking signatures, Sterling said the results from this recount would stand.

“Both parties know the rules on this on the front end, so now coming up with a generalized grievance afterward that there may have been an issue because the person that I wanted to win didn’t, is not a reason to have an investigation,” he said.

While Trump continues to challenge the presidential election in a handful of key battleground states, early voting starts Dec. 14 for the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs pitting Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff and Loeffler against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Perdue and Loeffler, who’ve called upon fellow Republican Raffensperger to resign over unspecified election “failures,” are backing Trump’s push for the results to be verified a third time.

“We’re grateful to have two Senators who fully support President Trump’s request for a fully transparent recount for the presidential election in our state,” said Georgia Republican Party Executive Director Stewart Bragg. “It shouldn’t be controversial to say that every legal vote should be counted and illegal votes should not be counted, but the Democrats and the media have made it that way.”

On Monday morning, the state election board approved an extension of emergency rules allowing counties to continue using absentee ballot drop boxes throughout the Jan. 5 runoffs.

The election board also amended a rule to mandate counties have to start processing but not counting absentee ballots at least a week before Jan. 5.

A record 1.3 million Georgians voted via no-excuse absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 general election and the mostly mailed-in ballots are the focus of unfounded charges of election fraud by the president’s loyalists. So far, 762,000 absentee ballots have been requested for the runoff or are part of an automatic rollover list for the disabled and people over 65.

“We want to finish up tabulating the election as soon as possible since an upcoming Congress and Senate will be seated,” Raffensperger said. “It’s really in Georgia’s best interest and the nation’s best interest that we finish this race up. But also, it was very frustrating that some counties had kept up with this process and others did not.”

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.