Nearly 2,800 more votes found as Georgia recount nears end

 Cobb County election staff continue to recount the presidential ballots Monday at the Jim Miller Park Event Center in Marietta on November 16, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Cobb County election staff continue to recount the presidential ballots Monday at the Jim Miller Park Event Center in Marietta on November 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Election workers discovered almost 2,800 previously uncounted ballots Tuesday, the second time this week that Georgia’s recount revealed that election officials in Republican-leaning counties had missed some ballots.

The finding, which came as Georgia’s manual recount neared completion Wednesday, narrowed Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump to 12,929, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The missing votes weren’t entirely unexpected in Fayette and Floyd counties. Both counties had reported more ballots cast than votes counted, indicating that they might have overlooked some ballots. There didn’t appear to be any other counties with large vote-counting discrepancies, according to state election data.

The recount and audit of all 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election is on schedule, and most counties' hand tallies are very close to those reported on election night and afterward, said Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager.

“Because of the audit, we found this” problem, Sterling said. “There were several spots where human beings were running it, this didn’t follow the procedures, and that’s why this happens.”

The issue in Fayette County involved a memory card from an early voting ballot-scanning machine that hadn’t been loaded, Sterling said. In Floyd County, the problem occurred when election workers apparently didn’t scan over 2,600 ballots sitting in a box, he said.

Sterling said the elections director in Floyd County should resign because of the problems. The secretary of state’s office is investigating both counties' operations.

Election integrity advocates, such as DeKalb County resident Liz Throop, said the missed votes highlight flaws in Georgia’s voting system, which combines touchscreens and printed-out paper ballots.

“The system is so complex that of course poll workers who work a 13-hour day or more are going to have a hard time making sure that everything is resolved,” said Throop, who wants the state to switch to hand-marked paper ballots. “They rushed a very complex system into use, and the training did not keep up.”

The corrected vote totals will be reflected in final tabulations for each county before Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger certifies the election on Friday.

But in most counties, the secretary of state’s office announced Tuesday that the manual recount won’t become the official tally in most counties, leaving little chance for results to change by much.

Except in counties where there were counting errors, election attorneys concluded that the hand count shouldn’t replace the original machine count of scanned ballots, Sterling said.

Republican state senator Greg Dolezal speaks during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, November 17, 2020 in Atlanta. Georgia State Senators spoke on Tuesday about alleged election security problems in Georgia's election. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

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Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Several Republican state senators said Tuesday they’re concerned about the integrity of the voting process.

Echoing Trump, they questioned whether voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes had been sufficiently reviewed by election workers and criticized a court settlement with the Democratic Party that required local election officials to quickly notify voters when they need to correct problems with absentee ballots.

“It is of utmost importance that we verify every legal vote,” said state Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Republican from Cumming. “Otherwise, the citizens of Georgia will lose confidence in our voting system and believe voting is an exercise in futility.”

Statewide recount results won’t be released by the secretary of state’s office until all 5 million ballots are reviewed.

In all, 78 of Georgia’s 159 counties had finished their audits and recounts Tuesday. In 57 of those counties, the manual count exactly matched the machine count. In 21 other counties, they were within one vote of the initial count.

The remaining county election offices had almost completed their recounts, but they were trying to ensure that they had reconciled every ballot before reporting final totals to the state, Sterling said.

Cobb and Gwinnett counties in metro Atlanta were the two largest areas where the recount was still underway. Clayton and Henry counties were also almost finished with their counts.

Election workers in Cobb County had about 5,000 provisional ballots and other ballots remaining for review.

In Gwinnett County, election officials were reviewing dozens of remaining boxes of ballots, but they didn’t provide an estimate of how many were left Tuesday.

The results will be made public all at once on a website that includes electronic tabulations, scanned images of tally sheets and supporting documentation, Sterling said.

“What we’re not going to do, we’re not going to release piece-by-piece ... because what you don’t want to do is have people aiming at a target,” Sterling said Monday. “So once it’s all put together, we will then be releasing all that data.”

Recount totals will likely be disclosed on Thursday, the day after the state’s deadline for the recount to be completed.

Then there could be another recount.

Georgia law gives candidates a right to a recount if they lost by less than 0.5% and request a recount within two business days after Raffensperger certifies the election, which state law requires him to do by Friday.

A second recount would be conducted by rescanning ballots through computers, and it would become the official count if the original tally was incorrect.

— Staff writers Kristal Dixon and Amanda C. Coyne contributed to this article.