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Doug Collins requests hand count of ballots across Georgia
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Hall County Elections Director Lori Wurtz moves a batch of provisional ballots to be counted Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who's leading President Donald Trump's recount team in Georgia, and state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer sent a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Tuesday requesting that he order a hand recount of Georgia's nearly 5 million ballots before certifying the results.

In the letter, Collins and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said the state party and Trump campaign “continue to receive hundreds of reports of voting discrepancies and errors statewide, including reports of tens of thousands of ballots being unlawfully counted.” Collins and Shafer did not cite specific incidents or locations in the letter. 

According to the letter, “millions of Georgians doubt the process for counting ballots in this state.”  

The letter asks Raffensperger’s office to resolve several alleged election issues, including ineligible, out-of-state voters casting ballots; deceased voters casting ballots; duplicate ballots; mail-in ballots counted without signature verification; voters denied the opportunity to vote on Election Day and being told someone had voted absentee in their name; denial of access to observe opening and counting of ballots; and meetings of voter review panels without notice or Republican members having the opportunity to participate. 

Under Georgia law, the Secretary of State’s Office can ask counties to recertify their results if an error is found. Collins and Shafer request in the letter that Raffensperger ask counties to recount ballots ahead of state certification using several measures: 

  • Direct counties to recount by hand, in the presence of party observers, votes for president, the U.S. Senate seat held by David Perdue and the Georgia Public Service Commission District 1 seat held by Lauren McDonald 
  • Verify, in the presence of party observers, validity of the signatures on absentee ballots 
  • Review the recorded list of voters to check everyone’s eligibility to vote 
  • Trace the chain of custody of ballots from printing to sending, receipt to counting, to document that ballots counted were cast legally 
  • Confirm that each ballot received by mail included date and time of receipt, the signature verification of the absentee ballot and the signature of the employee conducting the review 

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. Hall County certified its results Monday.

Georgia law outlines several steps that must be completed before results are official.

First, Raffensperger must decide whether to conduct an audit of the race. 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."

Times staff writer Megan Reed contributed.

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