The secretary of state of Georgia, a key battleground state where President-elect Joe Biden currently holds a slim lead of little more than 14,000 votes over President Donald Trump, has announced an audit of election results that will trigger a full hand recount of all ballots cast there.
Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, said during a Wednesday news conference that he wants the process to begin by the end of this week. He said it will end by November 20, the state’s deadline to certify its final vote count.
“Mathematically, you actually have to do a full hand-by-hand recount of all because the margin is so close,” Raffensperger said. “We want to start this before the week is up.”
Raffensperger, along with election officials across the country, has been the focus of ire from Trump and his allies in the aftermath of the election, which the Associated Press and other news agencies called in favour of Biden on Saturday. In the US, it is the norm for presidents to concede based on those projections.
The Trump campaign has since launched a raft of lawsuits in pivotal states and plans to request recounts in others. However, with Biden currently holding 290 electoral votes without including Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, the Trump campaign would need to overturn results in several states concurrently to whittle Biden’s lead to under 270 electoral votes – the threshold for victory.
On Wednesday, during a call with reporters, White House spokesman Tim Murtaugh offered an optimistic assessment of the recount: “With regard to whether we think these individual cases will turn the election, every time we take a step along this process we believe we are getting closer to our goal and that is the president winning these states and ultimately being re-elected.”
A lawyer for Trump’s campaign hailed the recount as allowing “us to have individuals lay eyes on every piece of paper for a manual hand recount”.
According to law Georgia passed in 2019– Georgia is required have a state-wide hand Risk Limiting Audit (RLA), trigging a recount.
We are committed to counting every legal ballot. Georgia voters deserves accurate, secure results. We stand by our numbers.
— GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (@GaSecofState) November 11, 2020
Biden, for his part, has called Trump’s refusal to concede and his obstruction of the presidential transition process “an embarrassment”.
Meanwhile, a New York Times report published on Wednesday that canvassed election officials from across the 50 US states found none of those officials had recorded any indication of the widespread fraud the Trump campaign has alleged, without providing evidence.
Under Georgia law, candidates can request a recount if the margin of victory is under 0.5 percentage points (the candidates currently have a margin of 0.28). But Raffensperger said the ordered audit was not in light of the Trump campaign’s early calls for recounts.
“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,” he said.
During the hand recount, election officers will count paper ballots and divide them into piles for each candidate. They will then run the piles through machines to count the number of ballots for each candidate. The scanners will only count the number of ballots in each pile, and will not read the data on the ballots.
Raffensperger said the process will have “plenty of oversight”, with both parties having the opportunity to observe.
Once 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.
Wednesday’s statement comes after the state’s two Republican senators called for Raffensperger, who is also a Republican, to resign, alleging, again without evidence, “mismanagement and lack of transparency” in the election administration in the state.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later reported that the senators’ statement came at the behest of Trump and his allies, who threatened to turn Trump’s base against the elected officials as they head into runoff elections on January 5.
Raffensperger responded that he would not step down, and called the allegations “laughable”.
With no evidence of widespread fraud in the state, experts have said it is extremely unlikely a recount in Georgia would yield a big enough shift for Trump to make up the 14,000-vote difference.
Modern election recounts tend to yield minor shifts in results, with a 2016 statewide recount of about three million votes in Wisconsin only changing the results by 571 votes, noted Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine in The Atlantic magazine. About five million votes were cast in Georgia this year.