JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Georgia counties face a midnight deadline to finish their hand counts of ballots cast in the presidential race, a fourth Georgia County discovered votes not previously included in the state’s initial vote count.
The deadline for the counties to complete their audit required under state law is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday ahead of a Friday deadline for state certification. Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state’s new voting system for the secretary of state’s office, said he expects the counties to meet that deadline.
The hand count is meant to ensure that the state’s new election machines accurately tabulated the votes and isn’t expected to change the overall outcome, state election officials have repeatedly said.
Over the last three days, four counties have found votes that previously weren’t counted or reported to the state:
- 293 ballots found in Douglas County
- 2,755 votes found on a memory card in Fayette County
- 2,600 ballots were discovered in Floyd County
- 284 votes found on a memory card in Walton County
The uncounted ballots found in Douglas, Fayette, Floyd and Walton counties will reduce Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump to about 12,800, Sterling said.
Elections officials blame all the mistakes are blamed on human error and said is exactly the reason the audit of more than 5 million votes cast in Georgia was ordered last week by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
On Wednesday, Trump wrote on Twitter: “The Georgia recount is a joke and is being done UNDER PROTEST. Even though thousands of fraudulent votes have been found, the real number is in matching signatures. Governor must open up the unconstitutional Consent Decree and call in the Legislature!”
FLOYD COUNTY, GEORGIA! pic.twitter.com/mIZ5rmdkvw— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2020
According to Duval County’s former supervisor of elections, the discovery of uncounted votes is enough to make some voters question the validity of the process, but a few cases of human error does not prove widespread voter fraud.
“To those out there thinking that there’s a widespread conspiracy theory it adds thought to that,” Holland said. “But in reality, our elections are based by state and then down to counties and precincts, so when you really get to finding votes in a county, it doesn’t in any way relate that the entire state did the same thing. Ninty-nine percent of time, it’s user error. It’s someone setting aside a box in a particular area. But what we’re trying to find in a sense of making the election accurate. At the end of it is that the entire state has accurately counted their votes. Finding some is not unusual, but again to have a statewide conspiracy is very very difficult to point out that that kind of thing happened.”
Both Holland and current Duval County Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan said they have both seen irregularities with dozens of votes, but not thousands like in Georgia.
Georgia law passed last year when the state bought new touch-screen voting matches that produced paper ballots requires the audit but leaves it up to the secretary of state to select the race to be audited. Raffensperger said he chose the presidential race because of its significance and tight margin. Because of the close results, he said, a full hand recount would be needed to complete the audit.
Once the results are certified, if the margin between the candidates remains within 0.5%, the losing campaign can request a recount. That would be done using scanners that read and tally the votes and would be paid for by the counties, Sterling said.
Marc Elias, a prominent election lawyer who has been involved in litigation surrounding the election on behalf of Democrats, said during a call with reporters organized by the Biden campaign that the hand tally has confirmed Biden’s lead. A request by the Trump campaign for an additional recount would be wasteful, he said.
“In the end, more voters voted for Joe Biden than voted for Donald Trump and there isn’t any amount of recounting of these ballots that’s going to change that fact,” Elias said. “All it’s going to do is waste the taxpayers money.”
Over the two weeks since the election, Raffensperger has been under attack from fellow Republicans, from the president on down.
Georgia’s two U.S. senators, who both face stiff competition from Democrats in Jan. 5 runoff elections, last week called for Raffensperger’s resignation.
“The secretary of state has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections,” Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler wrote in a letter.
U.S. Rep Doug Collins, who is running Trump’s Georgia recount effort, has traded barbs on social media with the secretary of state. And over the weekend, the president has taken to Twitter to repeatedly attack Raffensperger and the hand tally being done for the audit.
Raffensperger has steadfastly defended the state’s handling of the election and the subsequent audit. He has said his office has seen no evidence of widespread voting fraud or irregularities and he was confident the audit would affirm the election results.
In addition to other complaints, Trump and other critics have incorrectly claimed that Georgia election officials are unable to verify signatures on absentee ballot envelopes because of a legal settlement known as a consent decree. There is nothing in the consent decree that keeps election workers from checking those signatures. In fact, Georgia requires that they be checked.
When Georgia voters return an absentee ballot, they have to sign an oath on an outer envelope. County election office workers are required to ensure the signature matches the one on the absentee ballot application and the one in the voter registration system, Raffensperger has said.
Raffensperger’s office said in a Wednesday news release that the rate of absentee ballot rejections in the general election was 0.15%, which matched the rate in the 2018 general election. The actual number of rejected ballots was about 350% higher, but that matched the overall increase in absentee ballots, the release says.
In this year’s general election, 2,011 ballots were rejected for missing or nonmatching signatures out of 1,322,529 ballots returned. Two years ago, 454 absentee ballots were rejected out of 284,393.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the presidential race in Georgia, where Biden led Trump by 0.3 percentage points. 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. It is AP’s practice not to call a race that is -- or is likely to become -- subject to a recount.