Counties meet deadline for vote count with legal challenge pending

Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic Nominee for Georgia's 7th Congressional District, holds onto a Gwinnett County absentee ballot as she speaks during a press conference outside of the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registration and Elections in Lawrenceville, Monday, November 12, 2018. Bourdeaux's campaign filed an emergency motion Sunday night seeking to force Gwinnett County to count previously rejected absentee ballots for the 2018 Midterm elections.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic Nominee for Georgia's 7th Congressional District, holds onto a Gwinnett County absentee ballot as she speaks during a press conference outside of the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registration and Elections in Lawrenceville, Monday, November 12, 2018. Bourdeaux's campaign filed an emergency motion Sunday night seeking to force Gwinnett County to count previously rejected absentee ballots for the 2018 Midterm elections. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Every Georgia county but Gwinnett is expected to have met the Tuesday deadline to certify election results to the Secretary of State, but a court ruling expected Wednesday could put additional ballots into play.

Although Republican Brian Kemp has declared victory in the governor’s race, Democrat Stacey Abrams’ campaign said she will continue to fight for more votes to be counted in hopes of forcing a runoff. 

Two separate court ruling, one late Monday and another Tuesday, helped her cause by putting disqualified absentee ballots in Gwinnett back into play and requiring election officials statewide to review thousands of provisional ballots

That could also affect the count in the 7th District, where Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux has also filed litigation as she tries to close a roughly 900-vote gap with Republican incumbent Rob Woodall.

On Wednesday, a third federal judge is expected to decide whether the court order for Gwinnett to count absentee ballots missing valid birth dates should be applied statewide. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones will also rule on whether provisional ballots cast by voters who were registered in a different county should be counted.

Updates from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff were posted throughout the day on Tuesday. Click here for the latest vote totals

Gwinnett counts provisional ballots

10:30 p.m.: More than eight hours after Gwinnett's elections board originally convened, the county accepted more than 2,000 provisional ballots.

Those included provisional ballots that pulled Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux within about 530 votes of Republican Rob Woodall in the 7th Congressional District.

- Tyler Estep

Gwinnett vote counting continues

8:42 p.m.: Elections workers in Gwinnett County are still tabulating what were viewed as uncontroversial provisional ballots that should be accepted. Meanwhile, the county's elections board is reviewing staff recommendations on batches of provisional ballots deemed more debatable. The board is then deciding whether to accept or reject them.

- Tyler Estep

Woodall optimistic about a win despite court challenges

8:25 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall was cautiously optimistic about his chances of retaining his 7th District U.S. House seat and offered no apologies about his low-key campaign style on Tuesday evening as the Gwinnett elections board counted the race's remaining ballots. What the Lawrenceville Republican said concerned him was the continued involvement of the courts in the vote-counting process after his Democratic opponent Carolyn Bourdeaux and several voting rights groups filed suits over previously-discarded provisional and absentee ballots.

“Having a close election isn’t a bad thing. Having judges decide the election, that is kind of a bad thing,” said Woodall during an interview on Capitol Hill.

Woodall leads Bourdeaux by roughly 900 votes, but several prominent Georgia Republicans have privately grown sour about the four-term incumbent’s reelection chances in recent days. Still, Woodall said he had no regrets about the nonconfrontational way he ran his campaign and insisted he would not change his style in 2020 should he win reelection this year.

“This job is only worth doing if you can do it in a way that makes people proud,” he said. “And while Monday morning quarterbacking is a full-time job in Washington, D.C., there’s not going to be anybody who’s going to say that I embarrassed them or betrayed their vote because of the way we ran our campaign.”

- Tamar Hallerman

Interim Secretary of State says certification will meet deadline

8:18 p.m.: Georgia Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden said Tuesday she'll certify the election by the state's deadline Nov. 20, once all 159 counties finalize their results.

Crittenden said once counties submit their vote counts, she doesn't expect to add any more ballots to the totals.

"The actual counting and determination is done by the counties, so my certification consists of computing and tabulating and canvassing the votes that have been cast," she said.

- Mark Niesse

Related: Georgia's new secretary of state seeks accurate finish to vote count

DeKalb certifies election results

7 p.m.: In less than 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon, the DeKalb County Elections Board certified its midterm election results, touted their hard work and listened to questions and complaints from residents about the election process.

But a “technical glitch” is preventing the certified numbers from being posted to the county’s elections website, DeKalb spokesman Andrew Cauthen said Tuesday evening.

The board met to certify the results at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, but no updates had been posted as of 7 p.m.

DeKalb officials rejected 1,375 of the 3,147 provisional ballots cast, a spokesman said by email. Most were thrown out because voters were registered in a different county or weren’t registered at all.

- Raisa Habersham

Related: DeKalb voters complain of election issues as county certifies votes

Court ruling on Georgia absentee ballots due Wednesday

5:23 p.m.: U.S. District Judge Steve Jones said he hopes to decide by noon Wednesday if Georgia counties statewide will be required to count absentee ballots even if voters failed to include their date of birth or provisional ballots cast out of county.

Jones declined to delay today’s deadline for counties to verify election results. Gwinnett County is the only county not expected to finalize vote tallies today.

Jones questioned voters from the Republican Party of Georgia and Secretary of State’s office whether voters would be harmed by uneven implementation of guidance from the Secretary of State’s office regarding absentee ballots.

Only Gwinnett is under court order to count ballots with missing birth dates. The judge also questioned whether it was practical to require provisional votes cast outside the county where a person resides  to still be counted.

Stacey Abrams’ campaign and the Georgia Democratic Party argued they should. The Republican Party, Secretary of State and an attorney representing Gwinnett County said there are not processes that exist to prevent voter fraud if that rule is changed.

The lawsuit, filed Sunday, asked the court to require absentee ballots rejected for “arbitrary” reasons, such as a mistake in a birth date or missing information, to be counted. As many as 2,000 ballots were dismissed because of such problems.

- Tia Mitchell

Related: New ruling on absentee, provisional ballots expected Wednesday

Gwinnett counts provisional ballots

10:30 p.m.: More than eight hours after the Gwinnett elections board originally convened, more than 2,000 provisional votes were counted.

Those included enough to bring Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux within 533 votes of Republican Rob Woodall in the 7th Congressional District race.

Gwinnett to count ballots Tuesday night

5:08 p.m.: Gwinnett County still plans to count provisional ballots Tuesday evening, but the elections board is in recess until the ballots are "ready to be addressed," chair Stephen Day said.

The new scheduled date for certifying the county’s election results – 5 p.m. Thursday – will allow for the re-evaluation of absentee ballots that were rejected due to birthdate issues, per a new federal order. Day estimated there were more than 300 such ballots that have been identified, though officials are also likely to review other rejections that were filed under the vague “insufficient oath information” classification.

- Tyler Estep

Gwinnett delays certification

3:25 p.m.: Gwinnett County will not certify its elections results Tuesday.

Elections board chairman Stephen Day said it would take about two days to re-evaluate absentee ballots that were rejected due to missing birth year information, in accordance with a new federal order.

A new special meeting for certification was scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday. The county was still likely to count provisional ballots Tuesday.

A state senator detained

2:50 p.m.: State Sen. Nikema Williams was among about a dozen demonstrators who were detained during a protest in the state Capitol.

The first-term Atlanta Democrat said she was standing with her constituents when officers put plastic restraints on her wrists.

“I was not yelling. I was not chanting,” she said. “I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I’m being arrested.”

The protest in the rotunda under the Gold Dome was organized by a local Black Lives Matter group to pressure state officials to ensure all absentee and provisional ballots were tallied. Occasionally, the group of roughly 100 people broke into chants of "count every vote."

Authorities said the demonstration was broken up after several warnings because of rules that prohibit chanting or yelling while lawmakers are in session. There was no immediate detail on how many people were arrested.

Georgia law requires that legislators “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.

- Maya T. Prabhu

State Sen.  Nikema Williams was among the demonstrators detained in the Georgia Capitol rotunda.   BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Gwinnett’s closed-door meeting 

2:40 p.m.: The Gwinnett County elections board was meeting behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon as provisional ballots were being counted and dozens of advocates from both sides of the voter access issue awaited their return.

Gwinnett began scanning provisional ballots around 1 p.m. and the elections board started its meeting -- during which it is scheduled to certify the county’s election results -- shortly after 2 p.m. Less than five minutes later, they went into executive session to discuss pending litigation.

They left close to 100 people inside their roughly 40-seat meeting room. Those gathered included a group decrying Democratic governor candidate Stacey Abrams’ decision not to concede, waving signs with the hashtag “Stop the Steal.”

The other half of the room included voting rights advocates and representatives from the Democratic Party.

- Tyler Estep

A clash over vote tallies

2:30 p.m.: The Abrams campaign held a teleconference focusing on the fundamental disagreement in the post-election saga: How many votes are still outstanding.

Kemp’s campaign insists there aren’t enough un-tallied votes left to swing the vote to a runoff even if Abrams wins them all. Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said the Democrat’s tally shows roughly 30,000 ballots left.

Asked for a breakdown, Groh-Wargo said that includes roughly 2,700 rejected absentee ballots that could be reviewed, 2,600 absentee ballots and some 26,000 provisional ballots. She also said there could be some more early-votes and mail-in ballots that haven’t been processed yet.

“Every hour that goes by, additional votes are processed. Some we know about, some we don’t know about,” said Groh-Wargo. “Our position is count the provisionals, count the absentees -- and don’t rush the process.”

- Greg Bluestein

The GOP intervenes

2 p.m.: The Georgia Republican Party filed litigation trying to intervene in ongoing court challenges from Democrats who are asking the courts to force local elections officials to accept more provisional and absentee ballots.

The Georgia GOP’s motion to intervene accuses Democrats of seeking to “subvert the express language of Georgia law by requiring invalid provisional and mail-in absentee ballots to be counted.”

It also warns that siding with Democrats would "ultimately circumvent the jurisdictional and procedural requirements in Georgia law for election contests.”

- Greg Bluestein

Protests under the Gold Dome

1:40 p.m.: A group of about 100 people gathered at the Capitol Rotunda shortly before the House was to convene in a special session.

The group chanted for every vote to be counted in the gubernatorial election.

There was a heavy police presence, and officers led a handful of protesters away in plastic restraints. It was not immediately known if anyone was arrested.

- Maya T. Prabhu

‘A good first step’

1:35 p.m.: The congressional campaign of Carolyn Bourdeaux called a federal court ruling requiring Gwinnett to count several hundred previously-rejected absentee ballots a "good first step" as county officials look to certify election results. But the Democrat, who is currently trailing U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall by roughly 900 votes in the 7th U.S. House District, also raised questions about other ballots that Gwinnett previously tossed for "insufficient oath" information."

The county previously rejected hundreds of ballots for trivial reasons, including, but not limited to, year of birth," Bourdeaux spokesman Jake Best said Tuesday afternoon. "We will continue to fight to have every eligible vote counted and every voter’s voice heard.”

Bourdeaux had filed a motion in federal court late Sunday seeking to delay Gwinnett County from certifying its election results in order to count an estimated 3,200 provisional and absentee ballots that had previously been rejected.

A group believed to be organized by Debbie Dooley holds up signs as Gwinnett elections staff counts provisional ballots prior to election board meeting.

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Woodall said Monday that Bourdeaux should let local elections officials “do their job.”’

“It is disappointing that those, who in hopes of changing the election result, have gone to federal court to try to overrule our local, bipartisan officials,” the four-term lawmaker said.

--Tamar Hallerman

Fulton’s vote is certified

1:30 p.m.: Georgia's largest county certified its election results on Tuesday.

Fulton County said 424,998 residents voted in the mid-term, the largest midterm participation this century. That equaled a turnout of 60.4 percent of the voting-age population.

Fulton received 3,549 provisional ballots, 1,555 of which were rejected, Rick Barron, the county’s director of elections and registration said. A total of 972 of the rejected votes were tossed because they were from “out of county” voters while 581 people were not registered. Two people who attempted to vote could not prove citizenship.

“We can’t count ballots that are voted out of county,” Barron said.

-- Leon Stafford 

 'Ensure fairness'

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the AME Church in Georgia, said many people were denied their voting rights because their registrations were canceled, their absentee ballots were rejected or they had to stand in long lines.

“A lot of them were denied the opportunity to vote,” Jackson said. “We cannot be confident that it was coincidence or accidental. ... We demand that every vote must count.”

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, said the numerous anecdotal stories of issues at the polls on Election Day show why counties need more time to tally.

“After spending years shutting down precincts and passing laws to make it harder to vote, we have deep concerns,” he said. “The only thing to ensure fairness is to ensure every single vote is counted.”

State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, complained of former Secretary of State Brian Kemp's track record of purging voters from the rolls and a lack of guidance for county election boards when counting absentee ballots. Kemp resigned from his public office last week.

“Brian Kemp has repeatedly put his heavy thumb on the scale of democracy,” she said. “Now Brian Kemp wants us to just trust him?”

-- Maya T. Prabhu and Mark Niesse

Racing to certify

12:30 p.m.: All but about 40 of Georgia's 159 counties have certified their vote, and most of them have fully reported the remaining provisional ballots.

But most of the more densely populated metro Atlanta counties that tilt toward Abrams plan to convene on Tuesday.

That includes DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, which have yet to report provisional ballots.

-- Greg Bluestein

Gwinnett’s question

11:46 a.m.: Gwinnett County plans to begin counting provisional ballots at 1 p.m, a spokesman said.

Officials have previously said the county received between 2,400 and 2,500 such ballots, including around 1,500 believed to be cast in the tightly contested race in the 7th Congressional District. The county has not revealed how many of those ballots might ultimately be accepted.

Staff was still conducting final evaluations of some provisional ballots before lunch, officials said. The Gwinnett elections board is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. to certify the county’s election results, a process that could take multiple hours.

Gwinnett — a longtime Republican stronghold where Democrats are starting to make waves — has been in the spotlight throughout this election season.

Related: Gwinnett getting ready to count provisional ballots

-- Tyler Estep

Washington intervenes

11:35 a.m.: Our Cox colleague Jamie Dupree reports that the legal wrangling in Georgia has made it all the way to Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats are rallying around Stacey Abrams and her efforts to tally all absentee and provisional ballots.

Dupree's latest includes comments made by Democrats attending Al Sharpton's National Action Network event in Washington:

“What we’ve seen in Florida, and especially in Georgia, has been a national disgrace,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), joining Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in accusing Republicans of doing all they could to suppress the votes of Democrats.

-- Tamar Hallerman

The latest tally

11:34 a.m.: The latest vote totals in Georgia's governor's race. For more updates, visit our vote count page.

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A DeKalb recount

11:30 a.m.: The DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections is in the process of recounting already accepted absentee ballots.

The recount, which was supposed to be completed around 12:30 p.m., is to help ensure that the numbers the county has logged are accurate. About 19,000 absentee ballots are being recounted by machine. The county said it is too early to tell if any vote totals will change as a result.

A spokesman for the county said the recount could take even longer that expected.

“Looking at the number of ballots left, I’m not sure,” county spokesman Andrew Cauthen said.

The DeKalb Elections Board is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. to certify the county’s election results.

As of Monday, at least 94 of Georgia’s 159 counties had already certified their ballots.

-- Raisa Habersham

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10:50 a.m.: There are still big questions about how many provisional ballots will be counted before Georgia's election was certified.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Monday ordered election officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots that were cast because voters' registration or identification couldn't be verified at the polls. Totenberg's ruling is separate from a decision Tuesday from another federal judge that additional absentee ballots should be counted.

Here’s what you need to know about Totenberg’s ruling:

  • It remains unclear whether additional provisional ballots will be counted. Totenberg ordered election officials to provide more information about provisional ballots that were cast because voters' registration couldn't be verified, and ballots issued because voters didn't appear at their correct neighborhood precincts.
  • The ruling came in a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 by Common Cause Georgia, a nonprofit voter advocacy organization. This lawsuit is different from those filed by the Democratic Party of Georgia and supported by Democratic candidates like Stacey Abrams and Carolyn Bourdeaux.
  • After the Secretary of State's Office reports information about provisional ballots, Totenberg could issue further rulings on how they should be handled before the election is certified. Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden is scheduled to certify the election by Nov. 20. Totenberg's order said the election can't be certified before Friday at 5 p.m.

-- Mark Niesse

10:29 a.m.: A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Gwinnett County officials must still count absentee ballots that contain errors or omissions in birthdates.

The ruling only applies to Gwinnett County but it mirrors guidance sent by the secretary of state late Monday to direct county officials how to handle the votes.

Brian Kemp’s campaign said the ruling will affect roughly 400 ballots in Gwinnett, where the tight race for Georgia’s 7th District also hangs in the balance. Statewide, less than 1,000 of these ballots have been tossed for similar issues.

In a statement, Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo celebrated the ruling and another court order as “wins for Georgians’ fundamental right - the right to cast a ballot.”

9:37 a.m.: Late Monday, we learned that a federal judge ordered a review of thousands of uncounted provisional ballots. Counties still must certify their election results today, but the state is prohibited from doing so until Friday at the earliest. The state deadline to certify the election by Nov. 20 remains.

The review requires a statewide hotline for voters to check on the status of their provisional ballots and requires updated reports. Read more on the judge's ruling here.

-- Mark Niesse

6 a.m.: We're paying closest attention to the biggest trove of provisional votes still outstanding.

Most of the provisional ballots from Cobb and Fulton counties have already been added to the state tally, but thousands of additional potential votes could be added from DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. A few hundred more could come from Muscogee County.

These three counties are all heavily Democratic territory where Abrams must gain significant ground on Kemp if she has any chance of forcing a runoff. Kemp’s campaign, meanwhile, said she’s got no mathematical chance.

-- Greg Bluestein