Capitol Recap: Georgia undertakes another count

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election during a briefing outside of the Georgia Capitol.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election during a briefing outside of the Georgia Capitol. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Raffensperger orders hand tally in presidential contest

The 2020 election is over for Georgia’s new $107 million voting system — just not the rest of us.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered a new tally of all 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election, this time by hand.

Raffensperger issued the order while also saying he doesn’t expect it to change the results of the election, which showed Democrat Joe Biden about 14,000 votes ahead of President Donald Trump in Georgia. He and other election officials have also stressed frequently that there have been no signs of systemic fraud in connection with the election.

Trump’s campaign demanded the hand recount, and other Republicans —without providing any evidence of widespread irregularities or wrongdoing — turned up the heat on Raffensperger, a fellow member of the Grand Old Party, to act on the president’s ultimatum.

U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue even called for Raffensperger’s resignation, saying in a letter — without providing any specifics — that he had “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections.”

Raffensperger refused to quit, saying, “My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes — and no illegal votes — are counted properly and accurately.”

And then, while saying the pressure had no influence on his decision, he ordered the new tally.

“This will help build confidence. It will be an audit, a recount and a recanvass all at once,” Raffensperger said.

That being said, should there be more confidence in a hand count than what the state’s new voting machines produced? It’s debatable.

State and county election officials acknowledge that a hand recount could introduce more inaccuracies than computer scans.

Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said a hand recount comes with “a likelihood of more human errors.”

Joseph Kirk, the elections supervisor for Bartow County, pointed out that “humans have a hard time counting large batches of anything.”

Kirk and his counterparts in each of Georgia’s 159 counties will be doing the work, and Raffensperger acknowledged that “it will be a heavy lift.”

“But we will work with the counties to get this done in time for our state certification,” the secretary of state said.

They have to complete the tally in time for the state to meet its Nov. 20 deadline to certify its count. State law only allows for an extension if “just cause” can be proved to a superior court judge.

Even then, it may not be over.

After the results have been certified, candidates have a right to request a recount if they lost by less than half a percent. Trump currently trails Biden by about 0.3%.

New flood of campaign cash is coming

North Carolina, like Georgia, saw its vote counting stretch into days, and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham used the time to continue raising campaign cash — but not just for himself.

Cunningham, who has now conceded, is splitting his take with Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock, who is going up against possibly the wealthiest member of the Senate, Republican Kelly Loeffler, in a Jan. 5 runoff.

Efforts similar to the Cunningham-Warnock partnership are likely to take root across the country now that Georgia has become the last battlefield of the 2020 election with two U.S. Senate runoffs that could determine control of that chamber.

Stacey Abrams told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” that the Democrats’ financial strategy is “to raise all the money we can as fast as we can from anywhere we can.”

A more orthodox effort is already underway: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, so far, has spent more than $5.5 million to support Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the runoffs.

A big part of that cash could be aimed at your phone and mailbox. The committee penciled in $1.8 million for mailers and $400,000 on phone calls.

More money is sure to come. The committee is planning a “multimillion dollar field effort” aimed at registering more Georgians to vote and getting them to cast ballots, either through the mail or at the polls.

Former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio campaigned this past week in Cobb County with U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who faces Democrat Raphael Warnock in a Jan. 5 runoff. Rubio, a senator from Florida, was the first of many potential presidential candidates in 2024 coming to Georgia to help Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who also faces a Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio campaigned this past week in Cobb County with U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who faces Democrat Raphael Warnock in a Jan. 5 runoff. Rubio, a senator from Florida, was the first of many potential presidential candidates in 2024 coming to Georgia to help Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who also faces a Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

White House hopefuls already eye Georgia

Georgia could begin looking a little like Iowa and New Hampshire in the next few weeks, with a number of potential 2024 presidential candidates making their way to the Peach State.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was in Cobb County this past week to back U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in her Jan. 5 runoff contest against Democrat Raphael Warnock. Florida’s other U.S. senator, Rick Scott, was set to be in Cumming with Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who also has a runoff contest against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Others preparing for visits to Georgia — also to campaign with Loeffler and Perdue — are Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Coming to Georgia is a Star and likely talking points

With the runoffs’ potential to decide control of the U.S. Senate, Georgia has the spotlight to itself.

Some of the glare from that spotlight will come from The Georgia Star, which Media Matters, a left-leaning nonprofit, describes as the newest in “a network of websites that launder right-wing media content and talking points through pages designed to look like local news sites.”

The site is being launched by talk radio host John Fredericks, a supporter of President Donald Trump who this summer, with an eye on this year’s general election, started The Virginia Star as an affiliate of Star News Digital Media. The company runs similar pages in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee.

“If the Georgia Star turns out to be anything like its Star Network peers," Media Matters wrote, "the publication will rely on recycled content from pro-Trump media outlets like The Daily Caller and American Greatness, float fictive conspiracy theories from dubious ‘local news’ sources, and criticize local politicians for attempting to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces.”

David Ralston this past week easily won the GOP nomination to again serve as speaker of the Georgia House.
David Ralston this past week easily won the GOP nomination to again serve as speaker of the Georgia House.

Ralston remains head of the House

David Ralston’s grip on the gavel appears steady after state House Republicans voted 90-2 to keep him as speaker.

Ralston, who has led the chamber since 2010, easily beat back a challenge from Buford Republican state Rep. David Clark.

Technically, the vote was just to nominate Ralston for the No. 1 job in the chamber. Another vote will take place in the Republican-led House when lawmakers return in January for the 2021 session.

Before the vote, Ralston detailed key pieces of legislation that won approval during the last session, such as the passage of a hate-crimes law and the extension of health care benefits to low-income mothers as a way to combat the state’s soaring maternal mortality rate.

Possibly of more importance to his fellow Republicans was the caucus’ success in raising $5 million to counter election challenges by Democrats, who hoped to win 16 seats and take control of the House.

That blue wave, Ralston said, turned into a “squirt gun.”

This wasn’t the first time Clark tried to shove Ralston out of the big chair in the House.

Clark, who likened Ralston to a dictator who bullied Republican colleagues into doing his will, led a group of 10 Republican lawmakers who last year asked the speaker to step down. They made their push after an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found that Ralston, in his role as a defense attorney, frequently delayed criminal cases by claiming court dates interfered with his legislative duties.

Democrats pick Beverly as new leader

Georgia House Democrats elected state Rep. James Beverly of Macon to lead them for the next two years.

Beverly succeeds House Minority Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville, who lost his bid for reelection last week after a national GOP group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, spent nearly $1 million to defeat him.

The House Democratic Caucus picked Beverly over state Rep. William Boddie of East Point.

Beverly will lead the Democrats' efforts to gain a say in the drawing of new district lines for legislative and congressional seats in 2021 following this year’s U.S. census. Republicans will try to use the process, as Democrats did when they controlled the General Assembly, to enhance the prospects of GOP incumbents who faced close calls in last week’s election and win other seats.

U.S. Rep. David Scott is seeking to become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
U.S. Rep. David Scott is seeking to become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Scott and Scott eye keys spots on Ag Committee

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, has set his sights on the chairmanship of the House Agricultural Committee.

The position opened when the current chairman, Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota, lost his reelection bid last week.

That makes Scott, now the chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit, the senior Democrat on the committee. He will face competition for the leadership post from U.S. Rep. Jim Costa of California.

Another Georgian and another Scott is also seeking a promotion on the committee.

U.S. Rep Austin Scott, a Republican from Tifton, is aiming to become the ranking Republican on the committee. The two Scotts have had a cordial working relationship.

The positions will be filled in January.

The Agriculture Committee has a wide range of duties. It writes the massive Farm Bill, oversees some education scholarships and the food stamp program, contributes funds toward school lunches for poor students, and decides how to assist farms hurt by natural disasters and trade fights.

That’s all of great importance to Georgia, where the largest single industry remains agriculture, with an annual economic impact of $73 billion.

COVID takes an inhospitable toll on state revenue

Southern hospitality is taking a beating in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia’s most recent revenue report showed that the collection of taxes on hotel/motel stays was off 27.1% in October.

The coronavirus is also taking an unhealthy toll on the Georgia World Congress Center.

Operating revenue was down 31.5% in fiscal 2020 at the state-owned facility in downtown Atlanta that typically plays host to hundreds of conventions and events each year.

Expenses fell only 1.6% over the same period, and that decline made its impact on a lot of wallets because, an audit found, it “was mainly in personnel services due to a reduction in overtime and temporary help based on event cancellations.”

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