ATLANTA – Democrat Joe Biden took a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in the battleground state of Georgia early Friday morning. In the must-win state for Trump that has long been a Republican stronghold, Biden took a 917-vote advantage in vote totals released at 4:30 a.m.
By 3 p.m., Biden’s lead had grown to 1,585 votes. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said earlier in the day that the final margin will be within a few thousand votes and announced: “There will be a recount in Georgia.”
When Raffensperger spoke publicly again four hours later, he added “likely” to his statement of the election going to a recount.
Under Georgia law that can’t happen until the first count is certified, which in Georgia must be by Nov. 20 although they hope to complete that process sooner.
"Election workers around the state are working with integrity to ensure every legal ballot is counted and no illegal ballots are counted, Raffensperger said. "The final tally in Georgia has huge implications for the entire country. The stakes are high and emotions are high on all sides. We will not let those debates distract us from our work. We will get it right and will defend the integrity of our elections.
At 10:30 a.m., Raffensperger said that there were 5,500 votes left to be counted between four large North Georgia counties and up to 8,890 military ballots that could count if they were postmarked by Election Day and arrive by the 5 p.m. Friday deadline. Voters whose ballots had issues also have until the end of Friday to cure their ballots in order for them to count.
Biden took the lead when results were updated overnight by Clayton County. Part of that count is in Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, long held by Democrat Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who died in July.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Georgia because the race remains too early to call. Biden needs just one more state’s electoral votes to win the presidency. An AP analysis showed that Biden’s vote margins grew as counties processed mail ballots cast in his favor.
Gabriel Sterling, who has overseen the implementation of Georgia’s new electronic voting system, said the secretary of state’s office has long said counting could take several days.
During an afternoon news conference in the state Capitol on Thursday, Sterling did not offer an estimate for when he expected counties to finish tabulating their results. He said officials are working diligently and he emphasized his confidence in the legitimacy of the process.
“I think if anybody was going to try to rig a system they might have seen something a little less close than this,” Sterling said. “In this state in particular we take security very seriously. ... We’re going to have a recount for president more than likely and the people will see that the outcome will stay essentially the same.”
That didn’t stop one of the president’s sons, Eric Trump, from claiming Thursday night that there is corruption in Georgia’s vote-counting even though it is overseen by a Republican elected official.
“We know that’s illegal, but you get in front of a Democrat judge in a Democrat city and suddenly that’s OK,” Eric Trump said, referencing Wednesday’s lawsuit claiming 53 ballots in Chatham County were mishandled that was dismissed the next day by Chatham County Judge James Bass.
Friday afternoon, Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston issued a joint statement saying:
The statement came a day after President Donald Trump alleged without any details or evidence that election officials are trying to “steal the election” from him. Trump said that the “election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats,” even though the top election official is a Republican, whom he endorsed.
“In some states, there are complaints about monitors not being allowed to watch the count. In Georgia, this process is and will remain open and transparent to monitors," Raffensperger said. “If any member of the public raises legitimate concerns, we will investigate those. We’re committed to maintaining trust in our electoral process here for every Georgian, regardless of partisan preference.”
Vote counting got off to rocky start
A software problem that occurred on Election Day delayed the counting of about 6,000 ballots in Gwinnett County outside of Atlanta, county spokesman Joe Sorenson said. The error forced officials to rescan roughly 80,000 ballots to identify ones where voters made errors in marking them by hand. An adjudication panel has to examine those ballots to try to determine voter intent.
With margins so narrow in Georgia, Democrats, Republicans and voting advocacy groups are scrambling to encourage people to fix flaws in already submitted ballots before a Friday deadline to ensure they are counted.
There are two categories of ballots where voters may need to fix or “cure” flaws. One is in mail-in ballots, where voters may have forgotten to sign their ballot or elections workers may have decided that the signature doesn’t match.
The second category is provisional ballots, where voters encountered a problem in person at a polling place and cast their vote with the understanding that officials would later determine whether it’s eligible. Some will be counted without further action, but if a voter didn’t present a photo identification, they will have to present ID to officials to cure their ballot. Advocates also say that in some cases, voters may need to go to a county elections office if they didn’t show up on the rolls at a polling place to make sure their ballot is counted.
Cam Ashling, a Democratic activist, said she spent Thursday canvassing Gwinnett and Hall counties northeast of Atlanta door to door, although she said she found few voters. She said volunteers are flooding in on the Democratic side to seek out missing ballots.
“I guess they’re waking up to the reality that we can flip Georgia,” Ashling said.
State officials couldn’t immediately provide the number of uncured absentee ballots. Provisional lists are kept at the county level, and there are thousands outstanding statewide that county officials will decide on whether to count by Friday.
With 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Georgia’s 16 electoral votes would clinch it for the Democrats.
Donald Trump Jr. spoke Thursday evening at an event in Atlanta, along with several Georgia elected officials and decried the process.
Meanwhile, outside the State Farm Arena where the final Georgia votes are being counted, we have a growing crowd.— Vic Micolucci WJXT (@WJXTvic) November 5, 2020
Trump supporters are here claiming there’s corruption.
The caravan is Biden supporters, yelling “every vote counts.” pic.twitter.com/i5NBqO6x9s
In Fulton County, one woman sang “All Night Long” as election workers opened, flattened, stacked and scanned ballots inside Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.
“These are people who are not involved in voter fraud. These people are not involved in voter suppression. I am telling you they’re doing their jobs every day. It is hard,” Sterling said. “They’re doing the best to make sure every legal vote is counted. And the outcome will be whatever the voters of Georgia have chosen. And, yes, it’s a tight race, so be patient. The outcome will be certified. We will have an audit, so we all know the outcome is correct.”
Roughly a hundred Trump supporters gathered outside the arena. They carried signs that read, “Foolton County=Fraud” and chanted “God bless Trump” and “Stop the steal.” Several Atlanta police officers monitored the scene.
“If Joe Biden wins and it’s a fair election, I will take a loss as long as everything is legal,” Trump supporter Fippy Tugood said.
Meanwhile, Biden supporters drove by, chanting, “Count every vote.”
One group showed up calling for an even election, telling News4Jax it worked to make sure everyone had a chance to cast their ballot.
“We got over 40,000 voters to the polls. But we’ve got to make sure that their votes are counted," voter Bruce Marks said. "That’s why we’re here to support the workers who are counting the ballots -- to make sure that they’re not intimidated.”
As of Thursday, Fulton County had counted more than 200,000 mail-in ballots since Tuesday night as media from around the world, as well Republican and Democratic representatives watched.
Fulton Elections supervisor Rick Barron said any flagged ballots would be handed over to adjudication panels, which were set to review them.
Associated Press contributors include Jeff Martin in Marietta, Russ Bynum in Savannah and Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy, Ben Nadler, Brynn Anderson and Angie Wang in Atlanta.