Amid a myriad unsubstantiated claims of fraud made by President Trump and his allies in Georgia’s presidential vote, counties across the state have begun the task of counting nearly 5 million ballots by hand.
Election workers taking part in the statewide audit face a Wednesday night deadline to complete their count. It’s the first time an audit like this has been done in Georgia.
Janine Eveler is elections director in Cobb County, where more than 393,000 ballots have to be counted by hand. She says dozens of workers will be counting through the weekend and they may add more staff depending on how much progress is made.
“We’re going to have to assess that. We don’t want to be in a hurry and a rush because we want a very methodical process,” Eveler said. “Which is why we spent so much time explaining to the folks, because they’ve never done it before.”
Joe Biden and Donald Trump are separated by just 14,000 votes in Georgia with Biden in the lead. Eveler says she expects a slightly different number to come out of the audit.
“I’m sure it will change because people doing a hand count, there’s more reason to think they will make, human error,” said Eveler. “That’s one thing that machines are really good at, is counting. So, we’ll see what we end up getting. I don’t think it will be large numbers.”
Biden’s apparent victory in Georgia, the first for a Democrat since 1992, was a major blow to the long-dominant Georgia GOP.
Top Republicans, including President Trump and both of the state’s Republican senators are baselessly accusing Democrats of perpetrating election fraud, a claim Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and local election officials of both parties have rejected.
Cobb County started the process Friday morning with dozens of workers spread out at tables inside of an exhibit hall, sorting ballots into bins featuring the names of the presidential candidates. Approved poll watchers stood close by and looked over the shoulders of workers as they sorted ballots. A handful of members of the general public stood behind caution tape at the edge of the room.
Raffesnperger said Wednesday the risk-limiting audit would normally require only a sample of the ballots be hand counted. But because the margin is so slim – 14,000 votes out of nearly five million cast, a full hand count was required.
“This race has national significance, national importance, we get that, we understand that,” said Raffensperger. “At the end of the day, when we do a hand count we can answer the question: exactly what was the final margin in this race.”
Counties are stuck footing the cost of the statewide audit, although the state said Thursday it was looking into using federal money from the Helping America Vote Act to help share the costs with counties.
Todd Edwards of the ACCG, an association that represents Georgia counties, gives the state credit for purchasing much of the new voting equipment being used for the first time this year.
“I’m sure if there’s a possibility for the state to provide more funding, they will, however, we know that it’s going to be a tough budget year for them, so we’ll just continue to work, remain encouraged and do the best we can,” said Edwards.
Fulton and DeKalb counties are expected to begin the actual ballot counting process on Saturday.
The state is expected to certify the election late next week after the audit is done.
WABE senior editor Susanna Capelouto contributed to this report.