Metro Atlanta counties scramble to start hand recounting ballots

Nov. 3, 2020 - Marietta, Ga: An election worker counts 2020 absentee ballots at Jim Miller Park Tuesday, November 3, 2020 in Marietta, Ga..  JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Nov. 3, 2020 - Marietta, Ga: An election worker counts 2020 absentee ballots at Jim Miller Park Tuesday, November 3, 2020 in Marietta, Ga.. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Metro Atlanta elections officials will once again be in the national electoral spotlight as they brace to begin the labor-intensive process Friday of hand-counting all ballots cast in the presidential election, without knowing how much money or manpower they will need to complete the task.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday told all counties to begin their counts no later than 9 a.m. County elections supervisors attended a virtual training session Thursday explaining details of how the recount will work, such as which ballots to count first (absentee) and how to set up public viewing areas.

Counties that need to use Friday for training purposes and to set up the venues can begin recounting ballots on a later day.

At stake are Georgia’s 16 votes in the Electoral College, which is scheduled cast them on Dec. 14. As of Thursday evening, former Vice President Joe Biden held a statewide lead of 14,000 votes over President Donald Trump.

The recount requires human review of nearly 5 million ballots, which will be stacked into piles sorted by candidate and tallied in each county. The process begins eight days before the Nov. 20 deadline for Georgia’s results to be certified by Raffensperger, who is now in quarantine after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.

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Each of Georgia’s 159 counties will be individually responsible for determining staffing needs and paying for their recount. Each has to finish the job by midnight Wednesday.

Raffensperger’s office has promised additional resources for counties who need manpower.

None of the elections officials in Metro Atlanta on Thursday could give The Atlanta Journal-Constitution even a rough estimate of how much they think the process will cost.

DeKalb County’s recount will begin at 7 a.m. Saturday at the former Sam’s Club building off Turner Hill Road in Stonecrest, Elections Director Erica Hamilton said.

Hamilton said staff will count ballots from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day until the work is done. She plans to use two shifts of 150 poll workers who will count DeKalb’s roughly 373,000 ballots in pairs. Crews will sanitize the facility between shifts, and the DeKalb health department will have personnel in the building.

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Fulton County said about 300 workers will begin counting by hand its 528,000 presidential ballots at 7 a.m. Saturday. The recount will run everyday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Wednesday. Briefings will be held at 10 a.m. each day.

The county’s recount will be livestreamed and held within view of the public, press and assigned political party monitors. Everyone in attendance must practice social distancing and wear a mask.

Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said the effort was necessary “based on the closeness of the race.” Hausmann, a Republican, said she didn’t know the cost or how many people it would take to recount Fulton’s 528,000 votes.

Fulton did say it divided 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.

Gwinnett County will start hand counting more than 416,000 ballots by 9 a.m. Friday at its elections warehouse, but county spokesman Joe Sorenson said the officials still don’t know how many people it will need, how long they’ll work each day or how much it will cost.

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Cobb County will also start at 9 a.m. Friday. Elections officials will work in shifts to count all 396,000 ballots, county spokesman Ross Cavitt said. Like the others, Cobb isn’t sure how much staff the recount will require or what it will cost.

“We already have a good group assembled,” Cavitt said.

Henry County elections officials said they will undergo training at 9 a.m. Friday on the recount process. They will work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. Staff will work Wednesday until the last ballot is counted.

Fayette County Elections Supervisor Floyd Jones said their count could start at 8 a.m. Friday, but that time is not etched in stone.

“We are working aggressively on that right now,” he said.

Clayton County officials declined comment Thursday after a meeting to discuss how they will proceed.

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