Georgia’s 159 counties were set to begin recounting nearly five million presidential ballots on Thursday, but confusion surrounded the proceedings even as county officials rushed to prepare.
A day after Brad Raffensperger, Republican Secretary of State for Georgia, described the process as a manual recount, his subordinates said on Thursday that it was technically an audit and not a recount, although it was would have much of the same effect. Counties are told to audit every vote cast and count a new result Wednesday at midnight, two days before the state’s Nov. 20 deadline to certify its results.
But after that, the Trump campaign can still call for an official recount, if the result is less than half a percentage point. That means President Trump could effectively get three apple bites – or peach, so to speak – in Georgia. Yet with the margin in the first tally giving Joseph R. Biden Jr. an advantage of over 14,000 votes, election observers don’t think a number of tally will change the result.
Counties will begin their audits on Friday morning and must complete November 18 at midnight. The county electoral division auditors will sit at tables and count the ballots.
Most of what will be examined will be simple: printed copies of in-person votes cast on electronic machines. But county officials will also examine the hand-marked mail-in ballots. If they find any ambiguities, the ballots will be sent back to a three-person selection committee in each county made up of a Democratic representative, a Republican representative and a county official who will sever ties.
The situation in Georgia was complicated on Thursday when Mr Raffensperger entered quarantine after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus; from Thursday afternoon, she planned to take a second test. Jordan Fuchs, deputy secretary of state, said Raffensperger and several of his senior officials are also planning to get tested on Thursday.
The state’s use of an audit to cross-check all votes cast is unusual, although the secretary of state’s office believes it has the legal authority to do so. Audits are usually carried out during part of the vote in order to verify the results.
“This will be the largest audited account in US history,” Gabriel Sterling, senior deputy in the secretary of state’s office, said Thursday at a press conference. “We understand that. He’s a heavyweight.
Critics questioned the movement.
“If they say it is the audit, the law does not allow them to take the results of the audits and formalize them,” said Marilyn Marks, director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a group of right to vote. “Obviously, the secretary is responding to political pressure rather than following the intent of the law.”
Paige Hill, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that “historically only races with unusually close margins stand a chance of being canceled,” adding: “President-elect Biden’s margin is now more than 14,000 votes At the end of this manual recount process, we are confident that the outcome of Election Day will be reaffirmed: the Georgians have chosen Joe Biden as their next Commander-in-Chief.
Mr Raffensperger’s office has come under considerable pressure. He launched the audit after Mr. Trump’s campaign demanded a manual recount. The two Georgian senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both Republicans, also called on Mr Raffensperger to step down this week, under pressure from Mr Trump. The president and his campaign are spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories about the election, falsely claiming it was rigged.
Mr Sterling touched on some of the conspiracy theories on Thursday.
“I know there are a lot of other bits of disinformation out there, talking about vote reversals and vote shifts,” he said. “Anyone who claims things got turned around by a super secret computer developed by the CIA just isn’t speaking – is saying nonsense.”
He also said the media had “misinterpreted the rationale for the ‘audit’ as a cession to Trump and their campaign,” saying, “There is nothing that could be further from the truth.”