Nation focuses on Georgia’s slow, steady ballot count

Fulton County election workers started counting and scanning ballots again Wednesday as the state and nation waited for the results. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Caption
Fulton County election workers started counting and scanning ballots again Wednesday as the state and nation waited for the results. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The nation’s eyes turned to Georgia and a dwindling number of other battlegrounds Wednesday as the undecided presidential race tightened and President Donald Trump’s path to reelection narrowed.

While fears of long lines and disastrous complications at polling places evaporated with a smooth Election Day, the sluggish process of counting tens of thousands of outstanding ballots raised Georgia’s importance in the White House race even as Joe Biden gained ground elsewhere by flipping Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin.

About 90,000 absentee ballots remained to be counted late Wednesday, all concentrated in metro Atlanta or Savannah, leaving the outcome of Georgia’s election in doubt. As election workers raced to tally the votes, the Trump campaign and the Georgia GOP filed a lawsuit accusing officials in left-leaning Chatham County of improperly counting absentee ballots.

ExploreGeorgia Election Results

It was the latest in a series of issues that complicated the tally of votes. A pipe that burst Tuesday in State Farm Arena, where Fulton County officials were tabulating some results, delayed counting 50,000 ballots. And problems in Cobb and Gwinnett counties also bogged down the labor-intensive process of manually tallying mail-in votes.

That left Georgia and its 16 electoral votes hanging in the balance as mail-in votes in left-leaning counties trickled in. With each batch of absentee votes, which typically benefit Democrats in Georgia, Biden chipped away at Trump’s once-sizable lead.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s top elections official, vowed that key results would be reported by Wednesday, and Fulton officials prepared to count absentee ballots late into the evening.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pressed counties to finish their vote counting quickly so “there’s no question of who actually the winner is” in the presidential race and the U.S. Senate contest between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pressed counties to finish their vote counting quickly so “there’s no question of who actually the winner is” in the presidential race and the U.S. Senate contest between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

“My team sent reminders to counties, to get all, I repeat, all of our results counted today,” he told reporters at a Capitol press conference. “Every legal vote will count.”

With so many outstanding ballots, it’s unclear whether county election offices will be able to fulfill Raffensperger’s request. Counties have until Nov. 13 to finalize their vote counts, according to state law, and it’s not unusual for vote counting to take several days.

But Raffensperger said he wants the count done quickly so “there’s no question of who actually the winner is” with a presidential race and U.S. Senate contest on a razor’s edge.

‘We can’t rush'

Some of the top races quickly came into focus. U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler landed a spot in a Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Raphael Warnock in the 20-candidate special election. She handily topped fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who finished in a distant third place.

And Democrats appeared to flip a Gwinnett-based U.S. House district that was one of the party’s top targets. Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux declared victory over Republican Rich McCormick to claim the seat, which she lost two years ago in the closest House contest in the nation. The Associated Press, however, has not called the race, and McCormick has not conceded.

The state’s other premier contests remained unclear. Nervous Democrats hung on every batch of votes that thinned Trump’s margin in Georgia. And U.S. Sen. David Perdue was hovering just north of the 50% threshold he needed to avoid a runoff against Jon Ossoff.

“I’m antsy, but I also feel like it’s vital that we count every single vote and we can’t rush to make a call before we really know,” said Nicole Leffer, a Decatur Democrat. “I’m confident, antsy and also want to make sure we protect our democracy.”

The GOP lawsuit seeks to require the local elections board in Chatham County to “collect, secure and safely store” all absentee ballots received after the 7 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

Scott Hogan, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, remarked on social media that the litigation is “what you do when you don’t have the votes anymore.”

Republicans and Democrats girded for a drawn-out affair. Ossoff’s campaign urged supporters to join a “Ballot Rescue Team” to help voters who cast provisional ballots correct inaccuracies so their votes could be tallied. It was unclear how many provisional ballots were cast, but Democrats estimate thousands could be pending.

“Election Day is over but this election is not,” an email to supporters stated. “We have a feeling you aren’t ready to quit.”

Republicans watched each new return with a mixture of dread and anticipation.

“I’m guardedly optimistic,” Cobb GOP Chair Jason Shepherd said. “Georgia looks safe, but it’s too close for comfort.”