Gwinnett making progress reviewing final ballots

November 5, 2020 Lawrenceville - Members of the adjudication review panel examine scanned ballots at Gwinnett County Election headquarters in Lawrenceville on Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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November 5, 2020 Lawrenceville - Members of the adjudication review panel examine scanned ballots at Gwinnett County Election headquarters in Lawrenceville on Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Gwinnett County was making brisk progress in its review of ballots that have been flagged for potential errors Thursday evening.

Eight hours into the ballot adjudication process, 1,800 of the 3,200 “batches” of absentee ballots had been combed through by a team of elections workers and volunteers.

Once complete, the final cache of Gwinnett ballots could help decide close races up and down the ballot, from Georgia’s presidential vote to Gwinnett’s transit referendum.

An undetermined number of votes from the 3,200 batches of ballots, 4,400 absentee ballots received on Election Day and 463 votes from a corrupted voter card used during early voting have not yet been reported to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. The ballots that must be adjudicated and the remaining absentee and early votes will not be reported until the process is complete in order to avoid “voter confusion” that could come with fluctuating numbers, Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston said.

Elections workers and volunteers huddled around screens in the county elections office starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, going ballot by ballot to resolve issues. The county’s ballot adjudication process will have these workers and volunteers poring through 3,200 batches of absentee ballots in which at least one had been flagged for an error. That represents somewhere between 80,000 and 160,000 votes, spokesman Joe Sorenson said. The total number of votes among them that have not been counted due to errors is likely much fewer. The minimum amount of ballots that must be reviewed is 3,200, Royston said.

Errors could include a voter using a check mark instead of filling in an oval, or selecting two candidates in an election that requires a single choice. Trios made up of one elections worker, one Republican volunteer and one Democrat volunteer are working together to determine “voter intent” on these ballots; if the selection on the ballot can be discerned, it will be added to the count, Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston said.

Before the county’s ballot adjudication process started, Sorenson expected it to last into the weekend. Review panels that are going through the ballots are scheduled to work through Sunday. But the process could wrap up sooner.

“The timeline for me is the sooner the better,” Royston said in an afternoon update. "But we also want to make sure we’re doing it right.

Royston expects county staff and volunteers to work into the night adjudicating ballots. She would not estimate when the process would be complete.

“We will work tonight as long as we continue to be productive,” she said. If all ballots are not adjudicated by quitting time, the process will resume Friday morning.

ExploreWhat is adjudication of an absentee ballot?

The outstanding votes in Gwinnett could play an important part in a few key races. While most county races have clear results, the answer to Gwinnett’s transit referendum is separated by 1,749 votes, with “No” leading. The statewide presidential race is separated by less than 13,000 votes with about 50,000 left to count statewide as of Thursday afternoon, with President Donald Trump ahead.

The count will also help finalize the 7th Congressional District race. Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux declared victory in the election Wednesday morning, but Republican opponent Rich McCormick has not conceded. McCormick’s campaign said they are watching Gwinnett’s remaining ballots closely; he trails by less than 8,600 votes. The Associated Press has not declared a victor in the race.

Gwinnett’s incomplete total as of 1:21 a.m. Wednesday, when the count was last updated, has Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden with an 18 percentage point lead and Ossoff, also a Democrat, with a lead of nearly 16 points. Voter turnout is more than 70%, with at least 408,268 ballots cast.