Post updated Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. with full write-through
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is set to release Thursday the results of a closely watched statewide audit of the 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election.
About 20 county election offices worked into Wednesday evening to try to meet the midnight deadline for verifying the accuracy of an election that still has Democrat Joe Biden ahead of President Donald Trump by nearly 12,800 votes in a state that has not backed a Democratic presidential candidate in almost three decades.
Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for Raffensperger, said Wednesday he expects the results of the full hand count audit will be made publicly available by Thursday afternoon.
While there will be differences in the vote totals, the shift won’t be enough to change the outcome of the intense presidential race.
Those auditing results will not replace the actual official county results that the state will use to certify results on Friday. An official recount is expected.
Instead, the audit’s results should help prove that the state’s highly-scrutinized new $104 million electronic voting system that includes a paper ballot trail is working, Sterling said.
“What we’re looking to say is this count was correct, based on what we see through this audit and you can have faith in the outcome from what these scanners scanned and what the election reporting showed,” he said.
Once the state certifies the results, the losing candidate who is within a 0.5% margin of the winner can request a recount within two business days. In that case, though, the ballots would be rescanned instead of counted again by hand – which was a massive undertaking for local election workers.
In anticipation of the recount, Raffensperger sent every county registrar office high-speed scanners to recount the ballots.
Since Raffensperger ordered the full audit last week, about 5,900 votes left out of the first tally have been discovered, prompting Trump and his Republican allies to cast more doubt on the integrity of Georgia’s election.
On Wednesday, Sterling said the audit uncovered another missing memory card containing votes, this time in Douglas County, giving Biden 156 more votes and adding 128 to Trump’s total.
Those missing votes, chalked up to human error by state election officials and others, will be added to the final results, and so far, have only trimmed Biden’s lead from about 14,000 reported last Friday to 12,781.
Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said the mistakes that have been identified during the audit are not partisan. She noted that some of the counties where errors occurred – like Floyd, where Trump held a rally just days before the election – lean conservative.
“It’s important to remember that humans make mistakes. Human error definitely happens. And things like this happen in every election,” Dennis said in a call with reporters Wednesday.
Marc Elias, an attorney with Perkins Coie who represents the Biden campaign, argued Wednesday that a recount still would not change the outcome in Georgia.
“You could recount these ballots in alphabetical order, by machine, in random order, by hand, by counting starting with the second letter in order – they’re going to count the same way,” Elias told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Sterling said that the 2,755 missing votes in Floyd County were the most egregious since multiple verification steps were missed, including failing to even scan the ballots.
Other missing votes in places like Fayette and Douglas were the results of human error as staff failed to upload a memory card, leaving thousands of votes unreported.
Raffensperger is increasingly at odds with fellow Republicans over the integrity of an election he prepared to run for more than a year. In addition to Trump, Georgia GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue called for Raffensperger to resign days before the auditing began, claiming that illegal ballots were influencing the elections.
Loeffler’s opponent in the Jan. 5 runoff, Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, said the Atlanta businesswoman is irresponsibly making claims she can’t prove.
“We should all agree, regardless of party, that legally cast ballots must be counted,” Warnock said Wednesday. “And we must all stand up to defend our democracy against any effort to undermine it.”
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.