Fulton set to start 'huge’ recount operation Saturday

Fulton County election workers were hard at it again on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 counting ballots at State Farm Arena. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Fulton County election workers were hard at it again on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 counting ballots at State Farm Arena. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The county with the most votes in Georgia will begin its state-ordered recount on Saturday.

Fulton County will count by hand its 528,000 presidential ballots, which accounts for about 10.5% of the state’s entire tally.

The county sent a news release early Thursday evening saying the count will start Saturday at 7 a.m. and “continue daily” from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Wednesday, which is the state deadline. There will be 10 a.m. briefings every day.

The audit will be conducted “within public view” of the public, press and assigned party monitors, according to the news release. Everyone present must wear a mask and socially distance.

The count will also be livestreamed, the county said. About 300 workers will be counting ballots by hand.

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Counties across the state were left scrambling when Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for the recount Wednesday to verify if former Vice President Joe Biden did indeed have a 14,000-vote lead over President Donald Trump. A recount will decide who gets Georgia’s 16 votes in the Electoral College, which is set to cast votes Dec. 14.

“I think that it’s a necessary situation based on the closeness of the race,” said Liz Hausmann, who not only serves as a Fulton commissioner but also helps the secretary of state’s office with communications to other Georgia counties.

She added: “It’s just impossible to get a sample that’s indicative of actually what the results are without doing a total audit.”

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Fulton’s operation will take place at Area B1 of the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta. The county said its elections warehouse was too small to count the votes with enough room to socially distance.

That’s a good thing, Hausmann said, because she wasn’t happy with Fulton’s operation when she viewed counting Saturday night. She said she didn’t like that tallying was spread out over multiple locations, with votes moving between State Farm Arena and the county’s elections warehouse. She also said that people coming to observe proceedings are too far away to actually tell what’s happening.

“The only way I can characterize it was sloppy, and we can’t be sloppy,” she said.

County officials previously said they split up operations into multiple locations to increase social distancing and because of the COVID-19 outbreak at the elections warehouse that affected 25 of the 60 workers.

Hausmann didn’t know the cost or how many staff it would take for Fulton’s “huge” recount operation, but it’s clear that counties will be picking up the tab. Every county in Georgia should start by 9 a.m. Friday and must finish by Wednesday at midnight.

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When asked if she felt confident Fulton could pull off recounting its half-million votes, she said: “We’ll have to make it happen."

This is the first year a statewide recount of paper ballots in Georgia was possible. Before, officials recalculated vote counts stored on computers.

Counties have eight days to recount before Raffensperger must certify the election.

It was already set to be a complicated year with reviews of brand-new technology quickly implemented by the state — then hit COVID-19 and a tight contest in maybe the most contentious presidential election of the modern era.

“The timeline we had laid out was always a tight timeline,” Hausmann said. “To add this into the timeline obviously is a big hurdle to get over, but it has to be done. The voters need to be confident that the results that are certified are accurate, and this is the way to do that.”

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This is the full statement the county posted to its elections website regarding the recount:

“Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced a statewide Risk Limiting Audit to be conducted by hand for the November 3 Presidential election. This audit will be conducted by all 159 counties. Fulton County remains committed to performing every aspect of the elections process in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. With more than 524,000 ballots cast in the presidential race in Fulton County, the scope of this Risk Limiting Audit will involve significant resources. We are learning more about the Secretary of State’s guidelines. We have assembled a team to help us to quickly gather the necessary resources to conduct the audit accurately and efficiently. We will announce the location and timing of the audit once those details are confirmed. While the audit is underway, Fulton County is also conducting early voting for the December 1 Special Election Runoff.”

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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