Georgia launches statewide hand recount of presidential race

Democrats accuse GOP official of ‘caving’
With a handful of Georgia county elections directors behind him, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election during a briefing Wednesday outside the Georgia Capitol.  (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

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With a handful of Georgia county elections directors behind him, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the start of a hand recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election during a briefing Wednesday outside the Georgia Capitol. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger took the extraordinary step on Wednesday to order a recount of all 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election, under mounting pressure by fellow Republicans who leveled unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud to discredit Joe Biden’s 14,000-vote lead in the state.

Flanked by local elections officials at a Capitol press conference, Raffensperger said the count will be conducted by hand under Georgia’s election audit rules before a Nov. 20 deadline to finalize results. The cost of the enormous undertaking, requiring hundreds of poll workers, wasn’t immediately clear.

The decision came after an immense effort by President Donald Trump and his supporters to cast doubt on Georgia’s election results, despite no evidence of any wrongdoing or irregularities. U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, facing Jan. 5 runoffs, called for Raffensperger’s resignation, and Trump’s campaign demanded the hand recount Tuesday.

Follow AJC live updates on the Georgia election recount

Raffensperger, who has said there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud, maintained that he wasn’t influenced by the outside pressure, which was amplified by Trump on Twitter. Instead, he cast it as an effort to bolster faith in the election results, although some election officials suggested a hand count presented a greater chance for errors.

“This will help build confidence. It will be an audit, a recount and a recanvass, all at once,” Raffensperger said from the steps of the state Capitol. “It will be a heavy lift. But we will work with the counties to get this done in time for our state certification.”

He also said he expected the recount to confirm Biden’s victory in Georgia, a state that hasn’t voted Democratic in a presidential race since 1992.

This count will be conducted by hand, with poll workers reviewing voters' choices, even though a State Election Board rule passed this year required recounts by rescanning ballots through computers. Raffensperger justified the hand recount, categorizing it as an audit under different election rules.

‘Never be happy’

Democrats, who had praised Raffensperger’s stance all week, accused him of buckling to pressure to score political points.

“They’re putting a lot of resources to confirm something we already know to be true. He’s caving," said state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna Democrat who compared Republicans to whiny children who will still complain after persuading their parents to pull over for fast food. "The Trump supporters, they’ll never be happy.”

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The recount, which counties plan to begin Thursday or Friday, raised concerns about whether it would be completed before the deadline next week to certify the vote.

Sara Tindall Ghazal, a former voter protection director for the state Democratic Party, said she has faith that county election workers will get the count done on time. But she called on the Trump campaign to pay for the recount.

“I’m not categorically opposed to it if this is what it takes to restore integrity in the elections," she said. "But it’s only needed because of Republicans. This is clearly being done to mollify one party that doesn’t want to accept the outcome. They broke it, though, so it’s up to them to fix it.”

Some Trump supporters were skeptical of the process and worried it could distract attention from the Jan. 5 runoffs that will likely determine control of the U.S. Senate.

State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler of Rome, one of few Georgia Republicans who have publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory, said it might be a “good thing to go back through these ballots to be sure.”

“But I don’t expect it to change anything, myself,” Hufstetler said. “I certainly think we need to focus on what’s ahead — the Senate runoffs.”

Other Republicans scoffed at what they saw as hypocrisy from Democrats and the news media.

Chip Lake, a veteran GOP strategist, compared Trump’s effort to the uproar over the 2018 gubernatorial election, which Democrat Stacey Abrams lost by about 55,000 votes but refused to concede because of what she labeled voter suppression.

In that race, Abrams and her allies hoped a series of pending legal challenges would allow more contested ballots to be counted, while in this contest the only litigation filed by Trump’s campaign was promptly dismissed by a South Georgia judge.

“Funny, I don’t recall this much outrage from the media two years ago when Stacey Abrams lost by a margin four times where Trump is right now — and claimed the race was stolen from her,” said Lake, a top adviser to U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is leading the Trump recount effort in Georgia.

How it works

It’s not exactly clear how long the process will take, particularly because Georgia rolled out a new voting system for the first time in nearly two decades this year.

Since it only applies to the presidential race, it won’t affect the outcome of the matchup between Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, which was narrowly forced into a runoff after neither candidate got a majority of the vote.

A hand recount comes with “a likelihood of more human errors” than a computer count, said Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager. That means vote counts will likely be different from results reported so far, but the human review of ballots provides a way to check machine counts.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Poll workers will review the readable text on printed-out ballots or bubbled-in choices on absentee ballots. Then they’ll sort ballots into piles for each candidate to check the accuracy of results.

They’ll have to work long hours and on weekends to get the count done, said Joseph Kirk, elections supervisor for Bartow County.

“As far as how difficult it’s going to be, I don’t know. We’ve never done this before,” Kirk said. “Humans have a hard time counting large batches of anything. We want to move at a steady pace to ensure that accuracy and get it done as quickly as possible.”

In addition, Raffensperger announced that he will use emergency powers to postpone a statewide runoff in a race for public service commissioner that was scheduled for Dec. 1. That runoff will now coincide with federal runoff elections for the U.S. Senate on Jan. 5. It will not affect a Dec. 1 runoff to briefly fill the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Rep. John Lewis.

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