Atlanta – Georgia election officials have announced an audit of presidential election results that will trigger a full hand recount.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said at a news conference Wednesday that his office wants the process to begin by the end of the week and he expects it to take until Nov. 20, which is the certification deadline.
President-elect Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by about 14,000 votes out of nearly 5 million votes counted in the state. Nearly all ballots have been counted, though counties have until Friday to certify their results.
For the hand recount, election officers will work with the paper ballots in batches, dividing them into piles for each candidate. Then they will run the piles through machines to count the number of ballots for each candidate. The scanners will not read the data on the ballots.
After results from the hand recount are certified, the losing campaign can then request another recount, which will be performed by machine, Raffensperger said.
There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, but state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Biden’s lead stood at 0.28 percentage points as of Wednesday morning.
Republicans have been making more demands of Georgia’s chief elections officer as they seek to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 12,000-vote lead in the state’s presidential race.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who’s leading Trump’s recount team in Georgia, and state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer sent a letter to Raffensperger on Tuesday requesting that he order a hand recount of Georgia’s nearly 5 million ballots before certifying the results.
The move comes a day after Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler called for Raffensperger’s resignation, claiming he ran the election poorly but citing no specific incidents of wrongdoing. Perdue will face Democrat Jon Ossoff and Loeffler will face Democrat Raphael Warnock in Jan. 5 runoffs that are likely to determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Raffensperger has refused to step down and defended how his office conducted the election. His office has refuted a number of claims made by Trump supporters.
“The process of reporting results has been orderly and followed the law,” Raffensperger said in a Monday statement. “Where there have been specific allegations of illegal voting, my office has dispatched investigators.”
“This is not about anything but a fair process and election,” Collins said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is not about sour grapes. It’s not about anything else. It’s just about saying, let’s restore the integrity, because we’ve got more elections here in Georgia in a very short time.”
The race for president in Georgia is too close to call. As of Tuesday, Biden led Trump by 12,651 votes out of nearly 5 million votes counted. Nearly all ballots have been counted, though counties have until Friday to certify their results.
Georgia law outlines several steps that must be completed before results are official.
Under Georgia law, Raffensperger must select one Georgia race to audit and provide statistical evidence on whether the vote count was accurate. The audit will include hand-counting a random sample of ballots to check for accuracy. If he chooses the race for president, the margin is so tight that an audit would effectively require a statewide hand count of every ballot cast, Raffensperger said Tuesday.
Raffensperger is expected to announce on Wednesday which race will be audited.
There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia. However, regardless of whether the presidential race is audited, Trump could likely request an optional recount. State law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Biden’s lead stood at 0.25 percentage points as of Tuesday afternoon.
Collins and Shafer also requested that election officials recanvass the results for Perdue’s Senate seat and a state Public Service Commission seat held by Lauren “Bubba” McDonald. The AP called a runoff in Perdue’s race and hasn’t made a call yet in McDonald’s race, where the Republican leads but is short of reaching a majority of votes, as required by Georgia law.
Additionally, Collins and Shafer asked Raffensperger to verify the validity of signatures on 1.4 million mailed-in ballots and confirm the ballots include the proper notations, check in-person and mail-in ballots to make sure no one cast one of each, check that no one who’s not eligible was able to vote and trace the ballots’ chain of custody to confirm that they were legally cast.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. In fact, election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities.
The issues Trump’s campaign and its allies have pointed to are typical in every election: problems with signatures, as well as the potential for a small number of ballots miscast or lost. With Biden leading Trump by wide margins in key states, none of those issues would affect the election’s outcome.
Trump’s campaign has also complained that their poll watchers were unable to scrutinize the voting process, including in Georgia’s Fulton County. Many legal challenges based on those complaints have been tossed out by judges, some within hours of filing. None of the complaints show any evidence that the election’s outcome was affected.
Cathy Cox, dean of Mercer University law school and a former Georgia secretary of state, said the election law places the burden of proof on Trump and his allies to show evidence of vote fraud.
“All I’ve heard is noise and innuendo, rumor and gossip,” said Cox, a Democrat who served as Georgia’s top elections official from 1999 until 2007. “Just throwing junk at the wall to see if somebody will buy it.”
Associated Press writers Ben Nadler and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.
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