Biden builds small lead over Trump in Georgia, with recount likely

November 6, 2020 Lawrenceville - Gwinnett County workers scan and tabulate ballots at Gwinnett County Election headquarters in Lawrenceville on Friday, November 6, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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November 6, 2020 Lawrenceville - Gwinnett County workers scan and tabulate ballots at Gwinnett County Election headquarters in Lawrenceville on Friday, November 6, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Joe Biden opened a small but widening lead over President Donald Trump in Georgia on Friday as vote counts continued and a recount appeared likely.

Absentee ballots cast primarily in Democratic-leaning counties put Biden on top. The former vice president erased a 118,000-vote deficit on Wednesday morning to gain his first lead of the election early Friday based on returns in Clayton County.

By Friday evening, Biden was ahead of Trump by over 4,000 votes after Gwinnett County finished almost all of its count.

The completion of most vote-counting Friday made clear that Georgia is more politically competitive than ever, with a fraction of a percentage point separating Biden from Trump and the presidency on the line.

But there were still as many as 22,600 military, overseas and provisional ballots that could be counted if they’re returned on time and verified, according to the secretary of state’s office. Georgia’s deadline for domestic absentee ballots was Election Day, but overseas voters had until Friday to return their ballots.

“The final tally in Georgia at this point has huge implications for the entire country,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “We are committed to doing anything and everything to maintain trust in our electoral process here for every Georgian, regardless of partisan preference."

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Refuse Fascism organizes and shows up for another evening of demonstrations at the corner of Memorial Drive and Boulevard on Friday, Nov 6, 2020. The group of mainly Cabbagetown residents, have demonstrated nightly since the election and every week night since June 4. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Refuse Fascism organizes and shows up for another evening of demonstrations at the corner of Memorial Drive and Boulevard on Friday, Nov 6, 2020.  The group of mainly Cabbagetown residents, have demonstrated nightly since the election and every week night since June 4.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Refuse Fascism organizes and shows up for another evening of demonstrations at the corner of Memorial Drive and Boulevard on Friday, Nov 6, 2020. The group of mainly Cabbagetown residents, have demonstrated nightly since the election and every week night since June 4. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The last time a Democratic candidate for president won Georgia was in 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated President George Bush.

The count was far from over Friday.

Raffensperger said he’s planning for a statewide recount, which is required under state law when the margin is within 0.5% of the total vote, upon request of a candidate. A recount of all in-person computer-printed ballots and absentee ballots would likely begin after initial certification of results, which will come as late as Nov. 20, according to state law.

At the same time, the Georgia Republican Party mobilized lawyers to look for problems that might allow them to contest results. These attorneys were dispatched to Athens-Clarke, Clayton, Columbia, Dougherty, Fayette, Henry, Muscogee and Rockdale counties.

Gov. Brian Kemp, a former Georgia secretary of state, responded to Trump’s claims of fraud by saying that vote totals would only include legal votes.

“Election Day has passed but the fight is far from over. There are ballots left to be counted and we must protect the integrity of Georgia elections,” stated an email from Kemp’s campaign.

The Republican-led secretary of state’s office disputed the suggestion that there were significant problems in the election, saying there was no evidence of irregularities that would put the outcome of the election in question.

“There are Republican election directors; there are Democrat election directors,” said Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager. “But the job of elections directors and this office is to count every legal vote, follow the law and assure that every legal vote is counted.”

Sterling said the secretary of state’s office will investigate “any credible accusation with any real evidence behind it.”

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11/06/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during an election update briefing at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

11/06/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during an election update briefing at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
11/06/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during an election update briefing at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, November 6, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Democrats rejoiced Friday at the prospect of victory.

“Trump woke a sleeping giant in Georgia,” said state Rep. Shelly Hutchinson of Lawrenceville. “Our reputation is that we’re conservative, Trump-loving people. But we’re changing how the whole world sees Georgia.”

Republicans were quick to point out that they retained significant majorities in the Georgia General Assembly, stifling their rivals' hopes to flip the state House of Representatives.

Democratic Party candidates gained two seats in the state House, far short of the 16 they needed to take control.

“Their plan failed miserably,” said state Rep. Bert Reeves, a Republican from Marietta and Kemp’s floor leader in the House. “This ultra-progressive agenda that’s been put forth by Democrats was roundly rejected, not just in Georgia, but in America."

Georgia will continue to attract the nation’s attention over the next two months, when two U.S. Senate races appear to be heading to runoffs.

Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffer will face Democrat Raphael Warnock in one runoff. The second runoff hasn’t officially been declared, but current vote tallies showed Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue short of the 50% majority vote he’d need to avoid a runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff.


Georgia recounts

State law gives a losing candidate the right to a recount if the margin of defeat is within half of a percent of the total vote.

A recount will be conducted if the losing candidate requests it in writing within two days following the certification of the vote. The deadline for Raffensperger to certify Georgia’s vote count is Nov. 20, but he could do so sooner.

Election officials would rescan every paper ballot in the state, including ballots printed by voting computers and absentee ballots. Ballots would not be recounted by hand, according to a State Election Board rule approved this spring.

Besides recounts when a race is within a 0.5% margin, Georgia law also allows recounts to be ordered at the discretion of the secretary of state or county election superintendents, regardless of the margin. Discretionary recounts can be held any time before certification.