Election officials across Georgia began another count of votes in the presidential election Tuesday.
The recount began at 9 a.m. and must be completed by midnight Dec. 2, the secretary of state’s office announced.
It will be the third tally of votes in a race decided by the narrowest of margins — Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump by just 12,670 votes out of some 5 million ballots cast in Georgia. But election officials do not expect the third count to change the outcome of the race.
Nor is it likely to dampen calls to revisit that outcome. Trump’s campaign has demanded what state election officials say is impossible — a recount that includes rechecking voter signatures to uncover potential fraud. On Monday, a top election official also poured cold water on calls by Georgia Republicans for an audit to double-check the signature matching efforts of local election workers.
Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said such an audit would be technically feasible. But he said there is no specific evidence of wrongdoing to warrant more scrutiny of voter signatures, barring a court order.
“We can’t open investigations based on generalized, `we’re not happy with the outcome’ ” of the election, Sterling said. “If somebody comes to us with specific evidence, we investigate that.”
Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certified the election Friday. The move came after a hand recount of every ballot confirmed the outcome of the presidential race.
Because Biden’s margin of victory is less than half a percent, Trump can request another recount under state law. On Saturday the president’s campaign formally requested the recount. Georgia taxpayers will pay for the recount.
Unlike the hand recount, the new tally will be done by machine. Sterling said the Dec. 2 deadline accounts for the Thanksgiving holiday and special elections to be held next week in several counties.
The secretary of state’s office will release results for each county as they are completed. But the final tally won’t be known until the last county finishes its work.
“It’s 2020, so who knows what to expect,” Sterling said. “But, historically, you very rarely see much movement in the vote totals coming out of these things.”
The president and his allies have cast doubt on the integrity of the election in Georgia. Among other things, they have called for confirming that the signatures of voters who cast absentee ballots are legitimate.
Local election officials verify voter signatures on absentee ballot applications by comparing them to the signatures that voters used when they registered. They also verify the signatures on the envelopes when the voters return their ballots. After that, the ballots are separated from the envelope containing the signature.
That protects the secrecy of voters’ ballots — secrecy guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution. Once the ballots are separated from the envelope, it’s impossible to match ballots back to voters to check their signatures again.
That didn’t stop Trump’s campaign from repeating the demand on Saturday in a statement announcing its petition for another recount.
“Let’s stop giving the people false results,” the campaign said. “There must be a time when we stop counting illegal ballots. Hopefully it is coming soon.”
Kemp and the Georgia Republican Party have called for something different: an audit that would check the signature matching of local officials. Sterling said such an audit is feasible.
Local officials keep the ballot envelopes after the ballots have been removed. Auditors could compare the signatures on the envelopes with those on the voters’ registrations.
Sterling said the secretary of state’s office has not ruled out a signature audit. But he said it would not be easy.
He said it’s not clear who would perform the audit, who would pay for it and exactly how it would be conducted. And he said there’s no evidence it’s needed.
“There’s no specific evidence that anybody has brought to us that anybody has done anything wrong,” Sterling said.
Despite such assurances, many Georgia residents are convinced something is amiss.
“We do not trust the voting system,” Newton County resident Chris Smith said Monday during the public comment period at a State Election Board meeting. “This is a farce. Georgia has become one of the laughingstock states of the United States. It’s a disgrace.”
Sterling acknowledged the state has a lot of convincing to do.
“We need to get to a point in this country where people trust the outcomes of the elections and don’t buy into conspiracy theories and charges that are made without evidence,” he said. “It seems to affect both the left and the right, depending on the outcomes of the election.”
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