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Secretary of State’s Office reports 120-vote difference in Hall, 5,262 in Georgia in hand recount
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Hall County Elections officials recount absentee ballots Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, inside the Elections Office at the Hall County Government Center as part of the state's hand recount in the presidential race. - photo by Scott Rogers

Update, Nov. 19, 8 p.m.: Georgia's hand recount has reaffirmed former Vice President Joe Biden's narrow lead over President Donald Trump in the state, according to the Georgia Secretary of State's Office. 

The hand count found Biden ahead in Georgia by 12,284 votes, while the original count found Biden ahead by 12,780 votes. Trump gained a margin difference of 0.0099%, according to a report from the state.  An additional 5,262 votes were counted in the hand count than the original count, according to the report.

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. 

The secretary of state’s office has until Friday at 5 p.m. to certify the election results. The results that will be certified are the totals certified by the counties, not those resulting from the audit, state elections officials have said.

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.”

The complete hand recount 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.

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Update, Nov. 19: Hall County was finished with its hand recount of the presidential race by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, meeting the state deadline of 11:59 p.m. that evening.

The county elections office submitted an electronic form of the results to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, which will release the results, county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said. Georgia election officials expect to release the report Thursday, and they have repeatedly said they expect it to affirm Democrat Joe Biden's narrow lead over Republican President Donald Trump.

The hand tally of about 5 million votes 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 state has until Friday to certify results that have been certified and submitted by the counties.

Hall hand-counted more than 91,000 ballots and adjudicated 150 in the recount, which was called for by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The county began its recount the morning of Friday, Nov. 13, with each ballot being reviewed by a two-person team of one Republican and one Democrat. Monitors from each party were present to observe, and elections board members and staff were also in the recount room.

Update, Nov. 18: The state has provided counties with an electronic form to input recount results, and county officials are in the process of filling out the form but have not submitted it to the state yet as of Wednesday morning, according to county spokeswoman Katie Crumley.

"We anticipate meeting the deadline later today," Crumley said in an email.

Counties have until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night to submit their results.

Crumley said adjudication teams would meet Wednesday afternoon to review 150 remaining ballots.

Hall County completed its hand recount of the presidential race Sunday, Nov. 15, a process that took about three days to review 91,035 ballots in Hall.

On Friday, people in Hall counted 16,000, then another 24,000 Saturday. Now, 150 ballots will go to adjudication panels. Although 1,093 ballots went to adjudication in the county’s first count, some ballots do not need to be adjudicated twice and are sorted separately, such as those with an “overvote,” according to Elections Director Lori Wurtz.

All the county’s ballots were reviewed by two-person teams of one Democrat and one Republican. Monitors from each party, along with elections staff and elections board members, were also present to observe the recount. The recount was open to the public, although the general public was restricted to a separate viewing area.

Final election results by candidate have not been tallied yet, and the county is awaiting further details from the state about final tallying, Wurtz said Monday.

Georgia’s 159 counties are all recounting votes in the presidential race. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for the statewide audit and recount. 

The secretary of state’s office had originally said the results of the hand tally would be certified. But Georgia election officials said Tuesday they no longer intend to make the results of the state’s manual recount the official tally in the presidential race.

The decision leaves little chance for election results to change much after the recount concludes Wednesday. Joe Biden led President Donald Trump by 14,000 votes, according to unofficial results.

The change came after lawyers for the secretary of state’s office reviewed Georgia law and concluded that the new hand count shouldn’t replace the original machine count of scanned ballots, said Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager.

The recount is moving forward under a law calling for the first statewide audit of an election.

“The whole intent of the audit is to verify the results we already saw,” Sterling said. “We thought we were going to go down a path and then we kind of rethought it and said, ‘You know, the more legally stable way to do this is to do it this way.’”

If the audit uncovers serious discrepancies, as it did when 2,600 new ballots were found in Floyd County on Monday, county election officials will redo their original machine counts and then report a new total that will become a part of the official count.

The new ballots discovered in Floyd County in northwest Georgia will reduce Trump’s deficit to 13,378, Sterling said.

The audit is intended to verify which candidate won rather than determine a perfect vote count, he said.

Marilyn Marks, an election integrity advocate who is suing the state over the security of Georgia’s voting machines, said the audit isn’t a meaningful or valid recount.

“It is a real shame that they put everyone through this made-up, all-in-one process that they knew from the very beginning could never be an all-in-one process,” Marks said. “This was a farce.”

The results of the audit will be released after it’s completed by a Wednesday night deadline.

Raffensperger has said the manual count has closely matched original counts so far, but some counties haven’t finished their hand tabulations yet.

There could be another recount after this one concludes.

Georgia law gives candidates a right to a recount if they lost by less than 0.5% and request a recount within two business days after Raffensperger certifies the election, which state law requires him to do by Friday.

A second recount would be conducted by rescanning ballots through computers, and it would become the official count if the original tally was incorrect.

Jeff Gill, The Associated Press and Tribune News Service contributed.