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Georgia certifies narrow election win for Biden
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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. Raffensperger said during a news conference Friday that he believes the numbers his office has presented are correct. - photo by Associated Press

Georgia's governor and top elections official on Friday certified results showing Joe Biden won the presidential race over Republican President Donald Trump.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certified results reported by the state's 159 counties following a meticulous hand count of the 5 million ballots cast in the race. The results show Biden with 2.47 million votes, President Donald Trump with 2.46 million votes and Libertarian Jo Jorgensen with 62,138. That leaves Biden leading by a margin of 12,670 votes or 0.25%. 

Later Friday, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp certified the state's slate of 16 presidential electors, his spokesman Cody Hall said. 

The certification brings the state one step closer to wrapping up an election that has been fraught with unfounded accusations of fraud by Trump and his supporters. 

Now that the results are certified, Trump's campaign will have two business days to request a recount since the margin is within 0.5%. That recount would be done using scanning machines that read and tally the votes and would be paid for by the counties, the secretary of state's office has said.

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The hand count produced some differences from the previous machine tally, but no individual county showed a variation in margin larger than 0.73%, and the variation in margin in 103 of the state's 159 counties was less than 0.05%, the secretary of state's office said. During the audit, several counties discovered previously uncounted ballots and had to recertify their results.

In Hall, 90,523 votes were reported in the original count, while 90,643 votes were included in the hand count for a difference of 120 votes. In the original count, Trump was ahead in Hall by 39,139 votes, while in the hand count he came out ahead by 39,185 votes. Tom Smiley, the county’s elections board chair, said the discrepancy is due to human error in the hand recount. 

It is the totals certified by the counties, not the results of the hand tally, that were certified by the state.

Smiley provided The Times with a statement reading, in part, that the county’s “printed ballot receipts scanned by voting machines in each precinct were confirmed by the hand count.”

“The variation in margin of approximately 120 receipts between the tabulator count and the hand count is believed due primarily to human error in the hand count,” the statement continued. “The variation in margin does not affect any vote total of any candidate. Each candidate has received 100% of every qualified vote cast in their name. The audit confirmed that the election result as originally published and certificated by the Board Elections is valid. Every legally cast vote in Hall County has been properly counted.”

Raffensperger, a self-described "passionate conservative," has endured criticism and insults from fellow Republicans — from the president to the chair of the state Republican Party — over his handling of the election. He acknowledged their feelings on Friday. 

"Like other Republicans, I'm disappointed our candidate didn't win Georgia's electoral vote. Close elections sow distrust. People feel their side was cheated," he said. 

But Raffensperger, as he had repeatedly done before, defended the integrity of the process and the results.

Raffensperger also said Friday that he plans to propose legislative changes aimed at increasing trust in the results, including allowing state officials to intervene in counties that have systemic problems in administering elections, requiring photo ID for absentee voting and adding stricter controls to allow for challenges to voters who might not live where they say. 

"These measures will improve the security of our elections, and that should lead to greater public trust," he said.

At a news conference, Kemp did not clearly endorse the results. Instead he stated that the law requires him to "formalize the certification, which paves the way for the Trump campaign to pursue other legal options and a separate recount if they choose." 

Kemp had neither endorsed Trump's fraud claims nor backed Raffensperger in his assertion that the election was conducted fairly.

"It's quite honestly hard to believe that during the audit thousands of uncounted ballots were found weeks after a razor-thin outcome in a presidential election," Kemp said Friday. "This is simply unacceptable."

The hand tally stemmed from an audit required by a new state law and wasn't in response to any suspected problems with the state's results or an official recount request. The audit was meant to confirm that the voting machines correctly tabulated the votes.

"Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that numbers don't lie," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a news conference at the state Capitol. "As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct. The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state's office or of courts or of either campaign."

Raffensperger's office stumbled earlier in the day when it prematurely announced the certification while it was still unfinished. Forty minutes afterward, a corrected news release was sent out saying that the results would be released later. The momentary slip was yet another moment of drama in a race that has been fraught with accusations.

Biden is the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since 1992.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia’s top elections official said he will certify that Joe Biden won the state's presidential election after a hand tally stemming from a mandatory audit affirmed the Democrat's lead over Republican President Donald Trump. Raffensperger said during a news conference Friday that he believes the numbers his office has presented are correct. - photo by Associated Press
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