Georgia recount costs some counties hundreds of thousands of dollars

Fulton County elections workers sort and count absentee ballots during the county's second recount of the presidential election at the Georgia World Congress Center Tuesday. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Fulton County elections workers sort and count absentee ballots during the county's second recount of the presidential election at the Georgia World Congress Center Tuesday. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Counting and recounting ballots in the presidential race in Georgia is costing taxpayers in some metro Atlanta counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Though the full cost is not clear, Fulton County officials said Wednesday that the combined price tag for last week’s hand count and this week’s machine recount will approach $400,000. Among other things, that includes staff time and rent through January for the Georgia World Congress Center, where counting takes place.

DeKalb County believes the hand recount alone will cost $180,000. Other counties have not yet released cost estimates. But it’s clear taxpayers will pay a steep price for recounts that state officials say will not change the outcome of the presidential race.

While some states require candidates to pay for recounts, in Georgia taxpayers pay the bill.

Last week Georgia officials certified Joe Biden the winner in the state by 12,670 votes out of some 5 million ballots cast. The certification followed a hand recount that closely mirrored the initial machine tally of votes.

On Saturday President Donald Trump requested the latest recount, which Georgia law permits because Biden’s margin of victory was less than half a percent.

That recount entered its second day Wednesday and must be completed by midnight Dec. 2.

In Fulton County, about 50 workers tallied ballots Wednesday at the GWCC. They were scheduled to work through 5 p.m., then take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday before resuming the count on Saturday morning.

Chairman Robb Pitts said the county hopes to finish counting Saturday so Fulton can shift its attention to next week’s special elections for the 5th Congressional District and state Senate District 39.

“The eyes of the world are focused on Fulton County, Georgia,” Pitts said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “Believe me, we accept that challenge.”

Counting was also underway in other metro Atlanta counties. Cobb County officials say they did not plan to work this weekend, although that could change. DeKalb will resume Friday and work through the weekend. Gwinnett County planned to see how much progress it makes before determining whether it will count this weekend.

Even as the counting began, Trump and his supporters continued to criticize the process. They have demanded a recount that includes scrutinizing voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes to detect voter fraud.

On Monday the president renewed his call to verify signatures, claiming — without any evidence — that it would show “tens of thousands of fraudulent and illegal votes.”

The secretary of state’s office has said Trump’s request is impossible.

County election officials verify voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes by comparing them with the signatures voters used when they registered. But after that, the ballots are separated from the envelope containing the signature.

The goal of that practice is to protect the secrecy of voters’ ballots — secrecy guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution. Once the ballots are separated from the envelope, they can’t be matched back to the envelopes with the voters’ signature.

Critics of the election in Georgia have not fared well in court. Last week a federal judge rejected a request to prevent state officials from certifying the election. Among other things, the lawsuit claimed signature matching for absentee ballots was not done properly. The judge said he saw no evidence of irregularities that affected more than a nominal number of votes.

Earlier this month, the Trump campaign claimed that late mail-in ballots were being improperly counted in Savannah. A Chatham County judge dismissed the lawsuit for lack of evidence.

Georgia officials this week continued to push back on accusations that the election is tainted. On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp blasted “baseless attacks” that suggested he and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had been involved in voter fraud.

In an opinion article published Wednesday in USA Today, Raffensperger said he and his family had voted for Trump and donated to his campaign, “and are now being thrown under the bus by him.”

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