ATLANTA – As Georgia counties prepare for a hand tally of the presidential race, the state’s top elections official plans to quarantine after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said Thursday.
An audit of one race is required before election results are certified by the state, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that he had selected the presidential race. Because of the tight margin in that race — Democrat Joe Biden leads Republican President Trump by about 14,000 votes — Raffensperger said the audit would result in a full hand recount.
“The point of the audit is to show the machines counted the ballots fairly,” said Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state’s new voting system for the secretary of state’s office.
Raffensperger has been under fire from fellow Republicans.
U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Monday called for his resignation, claiming he ran the election poorly but citing no specific incidents of wrongdoing. Both senators face Jan. 5 runoffs that will determine which party controls the Senate.
Raffensperger said he would not step down and defended his office’s handling of the election.
U.S. Rep Doug Collins, who’s leading Trump’s recount team in Georgia, and state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer on Tuesday sent a letter to Raffensperger requesting that he order a hand recount of Georgia’s nearly 5 million ballots before certifying the results, among other demands.
Sterling emphatically denied that the selection of the presidential race for the audit and subsequent decision to do a full hand count was the result of pressure from the president.
“Even before the Trump campaign was talking about the possibility of a recount or recanvassing, we knew that there was a specific purpose for an audit in the law. That specific purpose was to instill confidence in the outcome of that election,” Sterling told a news conference Thursday.
Chris Harvey, elections director for the secretary of state’s office, told county election officials during a training call Thursday that they must begin the hand tally by 9 a.m. Friday and complete it by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The state certification deadline is Nov. 20.
For the audit, county election staffers will work with the paper ballots in batches, dividing them into piles for each candidate. Then they will count each pile by hand, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. Sterling had said Wednesday that the ballots would be counted by machine.
Sterling said the final numbers found in the audit count will almost definitely be slightly different than the numbers previously reported by the counties but that the overall outcome should remain the same. The results of the new count from the audit is what will be certified, he 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 Thursday afternoon.
Once the results from the audit are certified, the losing campaign can request that recount, which will be done using scanners that read and tally the votes, Raffensperger said.
Raffensperger’s wife, Tricia, tested positive on Thursday, Fuchs told The Associated Press. Brad Raffensperger was going to get tested and plans to self-quarantine as a precaution even if his test is negative, Fuchs said.