Fulton County: Election workers have processed all absentee-by-mail ballots

Fulton County elections workers sort absentee ballots at State Farm Arena on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Fulton County elections workers sort absentee ballots at State Farm Arena on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

UPDATE: 1:15 p.m.: Fulton County officials say election workers have completed processing absentee-by-mail ballots. 

Fulton elections head Richard Barron said that 145,748 absentee-by-mail ballots have been processed.

Of that, he said, results of 138,000 have been posted online and 1,200 more absentees that required more signature verification will come later today — meaning there’s a difference of roughly 7,000 between what’s been processed and what’s been posted.

There are still 3,600 provisional ballots and an undetermined amount of military overseas ballots left to be finalized. The deadline for those is 5 p.m. Friday.

UPDATE 7:27 a.m.: Fulton County elections chief Rick Barron said officials will release more vote totals around 11 a.m. Thursday.

“We’ve scanned 137,134 ballots, we have adjudicated 132,272,” Barron said Thursday morning. “I told the vote review panel an hour ago to come back at 10 a.m. because I didn’t figure it was enough to have them wait around until we had a more significant total to give them.”

“We are going to finish up this morning,” he said.

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Fulton County elections officials Thursday morning were close to completing the arduous task of processing and counting the last of approximately 140,000 absentee-by-mail ballots.

Elections officials worked throughout Wednesday and into dawn Thursday on the final stacks of ballots, as the nation focused on Georgia and a handful of other states that will decide the presidential election.

As of 4:30 a.m. Thursday, only 10,000 ballots were left and being processed at a rate of about 3,000 per hour.

Fulton entered Wednesday having counted roughly half of its mail-in ballots. Completion time was a moving target throughout the day.

County elections chief Richard Barron started Wednesday saying final results would come in at 9 p.m. That changed to midnight, and eventually became a range of between midnight and 3 a.m., as Barron vowed to keep elections workers at State Farm Arena until the job was done.

The counting has had a huge impact on presidential politics.

President Donald Trump held a statewide lead of 372,000 votes over former vice president Joe Biden at midnight Wednesday. By midnight Thursday, Trump’s lead was slashed to 23,000 votes, thanks in large part to mail-in ballots counted in Fulton and other metro Atlanta counties.

In Fulton, mail-in ballots favored Biden by nearly 80 percent, according to Fulton County’s vote tabulation. DeKalb and Gwinnett counties also neared completion of their ballot processing Thursday morning.

Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party.

Just past midnight on Thursday, about 96% of the 128,000 mail-in ballots had gone through the adjudication process, according to Barron.

Home to a tenth of all Georgians, Fulton has 800,000 registered voters. The only votes that still need to be counted beyond the mail-in ballots are provisional and overseas military ballots.

About 315,000 Fulton residents voted early in person and 58,000 voted on Tuesday, Barron told county commissioners Wednesday afternoon. Those votes were posted Tuesday night.

The suit was announced at the same time as NBC News was reporting that Biden was leading with 49.5% of the votes versus Trump's 48.8% of votes in the state.