Woodall’s lead narrows in closely-contested 7th District race

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the 7th Congressional District.

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, in the 7th Congressional District.

Story updated at 12:55 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2018. 

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux narrowed her deficit in Georgia’s 7th District race late Tuesday after the Gwinnett elections board counted a trove of provisional ballots, all but assuring the state’s only unresolved congressional contest will drag on for several more days.

About 530 votes now separate the Georgia State University professor from incumbent Republican Rob Woodall. That puts the contest within recount territory should the margins hold after Gwinnett tallies several hundred previously-rejected absentee ballots later this week.

Georgia law allows candidates to request a recount if they trail the vote leader by less than 1 percentage point after election results are finalized, an avenue Bourdeaux’s team said she plans to pursue.

County election workers spent hours on Tuesday tabulating more than 1,200 provisional ballots that had been cast in the 7th District race. And there's more work to be done in the days ahead: the county said it could reconsider roughly 300 absentee ballots that had previously been rejected due to missing birth year information to adhere to a recent order from a federal district judge.

The county has also yet to count what’s estimated to be up to 150 absentee ballots that had been rejected because of alleged signature mismatches, but it’s unclear how many of those were cast in the 7th District race. (Portions of Gwinnett fall in two other congressional districts.)

Gwinnett’s election results will not be finalized until Thursday evening. It is only after the state subsequently certifies those results that Woodall or Bourdeaux could request a recount.

Woodall had for days clung to a 901-vote lead in the contest to represent large swaths of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties in Congress, but Bourdeaux picked up 810 provisional votes on Tuesday and the Lawrenceville Republican 442.

Until this year, Woodall had not faced real competition for his suburban Atlanta seat, regularly winning reelection with upwards of 20 percentage points.

But Democrats targeted the 7th District after Hillary Clinton in 2016 became the first Democrat to carry Gwinnett in a generation. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams won the county by more than 14 percentage points last week, and voters also flipped several Republican-controlled statehouse seats there.

Woodall was cautiously optimistic about his chances of winning a fifth term earlier Tuesday evening but said he was concerned about the continued involvement of the courts in the vote-counting process.

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

“I’ve said from the beginning I was willing to live with whatever vote count folks came up with, and there are lots of scenarios where it doesn’t go our way, but that’s what elections decide,” he added.

Bourdeaux on Sunday joined a federal suit previously filed by several voting rights groups urging Gwinnett to count a cache of previously-discarded provisional and absentee ballots.

“We will continue to fight until every eligible vote is counted,” Bourdeaux spokesman Jake Best said late Monday.

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