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Georgia will recount presidential race by hand
11122020 RECOUNT 1
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia election officials have announced an audit of presidential election results that will trigger a full hand recount - photo by Associated Press

Georgia's secretary of state on Wednesday announced an audit of presidential election results that he said will trigger a full hand recount.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said at a news conference that his office wants the process to begin by the end of the week and he expects it to take until Nov. 20, which is the certification deadline.

President-elect Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by about 14,000 votes out of nearly 5 million votes in the state. Nearly all ballots have been counted, though counties have until Friday to certify their results. Hall County certified its results Monday.

Once county certification is complete and before the state certifies the results, the count must be audited. It is up to Raffensperger to choose which race to audit.

The audit is a new requirement put in place by a law passed in 2019 that also provided for the new voting machines purchased last year. The state has chosen to do a risk-limiting audit, in which a random sample of ballots or receipts generated by voting machines are checked against results produced by vote-tallying equipment for accuracy.

Raffensperger chose to audit the presidential race and said the tight margin means that the audit will result in a full hand recount.

Asked if he chose the presidential race because of the Trump campaign's call for a hand recount, Raffensperger said, “No, we're doing this because it's really what makes the most sense with the national significance of this race and the closeness of this race.”

For the hand recount, election officers will work with the paper ballots in batches, dividing them into piles for each candidate. Then they will count each pile by hand, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state's new voting system for the secretary of state's office, had said Wednesday that the ballots would be counted by machine.

Chris Harvey, the elections director in the secretary of state's office, said the agency will have a call with county election officials Thursday to go over training requirements and expectations. He said counties will likely begin the audit process that afternoon or first thing Friday morning. Hall County officials told The Times the local elections office can't provide additional information about what the process may look like in Hall until it receives that instruction from the state.

Raffensperger said the process will have “plenty of oversight,” with both parties having the opportunity to observe.

After results from the hand recount are certified, the losing campaign can then request another recount, which will be performed by scanners that would read and tally the votes, Raffensperger said.

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. Biden’s lead stood at 0.28 percentage points as of Wednesday morning.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who was tapped Sunday to lead President Donald Trump's recount efforts in Georgia, called the upcoming audit a “first step.” He noted the Trump campaign had requested a hand recount.

“This is a victory for integrity,” Collins said. “This is a victory for transparency.”

Collins and state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer sent a letter to Raffensperger on Tuesday requesting that he order a hand recount of Georgia's ballots before certifying the results.

 Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had 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.

In addition to the audit of the presidential race, Raffensperger announced that he's consolidating runoff elections to Jan. 5, meaning any state races that were set to be held Dec. 1 will now be Jan. 5, along with the two U.S. Senate races. 

The one exception is the runoff for the special election to fill the remainder of U.S. Rep. John Lewis' term. That election will still be held Dec. 1. The person who wins that election will serve for about a month before Nikema Williams, who was just elected to succeed Lewis, who died in July.

The Times contributed to this article. It has been updated from its original version to correct a source's error about how the ballots will be counted.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia election officials have announced an audit of presidential election results that will trigger a full hand recount. - photo by Associated Press
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