Some metro Atlanta counties start recount, others prepare

Workers unload sealed bags of ballots from trucks before the Fulton County Risk Limiting Audit starting at 7 a.m. on Saturday at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Workers unload sealed bags of ballots from trucks before the Fulton County Risk Limiting Audit starting at 7 a.m. on Saturday at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

An unprecedented hand recount of nearly 5 million ballots cast in the Georgia presidential contest got underway Friday.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asked all of Georgia’s 159 counties to begin the recount Friday, but some large counties needed more time. Fulton and DeKalb counties, home to 17% of all Georgians, were set to begin their recounts Saturday.

Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties moved forward Friday. Cobb County reported it had competed counting 115,000 of 394,000 ballots Friday and would continue Saturday at 8 a.m. Elections workers across the state are expected to work through the weekend in order finish before the deadline.

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The deadline to finish is Friday, Nov. 20. At stake are Georgia’s 16 votes in the Electoral College.

New election results won’t be reported as they’re tallied. Instead, outcomes will only be made public after counties finish.

Raffensperger wants counting finished by Wednesday so he can certify results by the state-mandated deadline of Friday. That date is important because federal law requires absentee ballots for Georgia’s Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff start being sent to military and oversees voters by Nov. 21.

But politics is never very far away from this process.

Bianca Keaton, the chair of Gwinnett’s Democratic party, said Raffensperger, a Republican, was “playing foolish games” by requiring the recount. State law allows for an audit, and while Raffensperger has said the law gives him the leeway to require the hand recount, Keaton said his assessment was “ridiculous."

”An audit is a sampling. They are totally redefining the rules," she said. “It seems like a gratuity for the Trump campaign courtesy of Brad Raffensperger and it’s not OK.”

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County governments — and their taxpayers — must cover the cost of the recount ordered by Raffensperger. State election officials have said they’re seeking federal funding to help reimburse some of the costs borne by counties.

Only DeKalb officials could give a preliminary estimate Friday: The recount will cost about $180,000, including $147,000 in pay, $20,000 for food and beverages, and $12,000 for personal protective equipment and other coronavirus-related precautions.

DeKalb plans to run 300 workers in two eight-hour shifts each day, with 75 pairs of workers per shift.

Cobb spokesman Ross Cavitt said they began with about 80 workers. Eight political party monitors were walking the floors, watching the workers count. They have to maintain six feet of social distancing.

November 13, 2020 Lawrenceville - Election workers in Gwinnett County began working through a recount of 414,000 ballots Friday morning, representing nearly 10% of all votes cast in the state at Gwinnett County Election headquarters in Lawrenceville on Friday, November 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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November 13, 2020 Lawrenceville - Election workers in Gwinnett County began working through a recount of 414,000 ballots Friday morning, representing nearly 10% of all votes cast in the state at Gwinnett County Election headquarters in Lawrenceville on Friday, November 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

DeKalb’s district health director Dr. Sandra Ford said Friday afternoon during a virtual press conference she was worried about the coronavirus.

“I am of course concerned about the pandemic and the current surges that we’re seeing,” Ford said. “That’s why we’re going to be physically in place to make sure that the practices are optimal to minimize the risk of anybody contracting COVID.”

COVID-19 and social distancing is part of why Fulton spent Friday moving their massive recount operation into the Georgia World Congress Center.

The county’s elections board also spent Friday certifying their 528,000 ballots, which amounted to about 10.5% of all votes cast in Georgia.

Fulton will start its recount at 7 a.m. Saturday with 125 teams of two people reviewing ballots. Fulton elections head Richard Barron said he felt they would finish Monday. Clayton spokeswoman Valerie Fuller said 30 people will count, with 100 more on standby.

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But the math wasn’t happening only in metro Atlanta.

The steady cadence of counters could be heard inside local government buildings across Georgia and on livestreams. Many smaller counties finished the audit hand count by the end of day Friday, with encouraging signs. There were no signs of fraud and count totals from election day were more or less the same and accurate, according to local officials interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Forty miles from the Florida-Georgia line, Atkinson County elections supervisor Loraine White breathed a sigh of relief Friday.

“It was exactly spot on,” she said. “We were very happy. To me it means we have a good team.”

On the Alabama-Georgia line, Decatur County election supervisor Carol Heard didn’t know what to expect when the day started, but it turned out the count matched their Election Day tally.

“I’m very relieved. Finally, an election that was right on target. It was as smooth as it could be. This was the D-Day of the new voting system. It went well," she said. "To me this says the voters should have confidence in the system.”

She was nervous having never carried out such a hand count on the state’s new voting system.

“Plus, being Friday the 13th, I had no idea,” she said.

AJC staff writers Mark Niesse, Leon Stafford and Arielle Kass contributed to this article.

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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Cobb County is one of many counties beginning hand recount of the 2020 election

Credit: WSBTV Videos