Georgia election officials expect to release the results of a statewide audit by noon Thursday, as a handful of counties finish data entry from a full hand recount of 5 million presidential votes.
Gabriel Sterling with the secretary of state's office said Wednesday afternoon that at least 21 of 159 counties show their risk-limiting audit is still in process, including some of the large jurisdictions in metro Atlanta. The deadline for the audit is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
"We cannot do the full quality-control process until all the data entry is in there," he said. "We will likely be having to use every minute of that midnight deadline."
Announcing the hand audit last week, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the recount was necessary because of the close margin of the race.
Since Friday morning, thousands of workers across the state have counted each ballot to ensure that President-elect Joe Biden did narrowly defeat President Trump in the Nov. 3 contest in Georgia. While the risk-limiting audit is designed to check the correct winner and not change the margins, four counties uncovered a few thousand votes that were not originally uploaded to the state's election results. Those votes narrowly cut into Biden's margin but are not nearly enough to reverse Biden's lead.
Douglas County failed to include a memory card from an Election Day precinct that included 156 votes for Biden, 128 votes for Trump, seven votes for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen and two ballots where no presidential selection was made. This brings the margin by which Biden leads Trump to 12,781, after Walton County discovered a memory card with 284 votes, Fayette Country tabulated 2,755 missing votes and Floyd County had about 2,600 ballots that were never scanned.
Trump and other top Republicans have suggested that Georgia's vote counting and risk-limiting audit is fraudulent, something that Sterling of the secretary of state's office said is a ridiculous notion.
"The irony of his saying 'fraudulent votes have been found' — he has gained in the finding of these votes," Sterling said. "So the system is working the way it is intended. And the frustrating situation overall ... if this was 14,000 votes the other way, I believe Biden supporters would be screaming that this was all inappropriate and not done correctly."
Sterling also addressed a Twitter thread from David Shafer, chair of the Georgia Republican Party, that seemed to suggest an error in DeKalb County almost gave Biden an extra 9,000 votes. The social media outlet flagged those tweets as disputed on Wednesday afternoon.
During the audit, one batch of ballots was recorded as containing more than 10,000 votes when the label on the box said just over 1,000. But the error was caught, and according to an affidavit submitted by a Republican audit monitor, the final tally showed a difference of only two votes from the label.
"This is why we don't give out interim audit results, because it can be misleading to look at them because there will be human errors on this," Sterling said. "This was discovered on Sunday, the secretary's office was made aware of it since then and we all knew what had happened here."
As of 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, 5 million ballots had been hand-counted, and the secretary of state's office says the process will finish on time.
The results of the risk-limiting audit and all of the accompanying documents will be posted publicly and will not alter the county-certified totals. State officials said that since the audit is designed to check winners and not margins, the original vote totals showing Biden ahead will stand.
Those four counties that failed to tally all of their votes must recertify, and the state's deadline to sign off on the election results is Friday. While the deadline to complete the audit is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, state officials say they will not release results until Thursday, after the election staff gets some rest.
"We're running our audit teams into the ground right now," Sterling said.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign can still request a machine recount of election results after the state's certification, something that would take at least a week for some counties to complete.
The elections director in Fulton County, Georgia's most populous, told commissioners it could take up to nine days to rescan more than half a million ballots.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Georgia has finished recounting by hand 5 million ballots that were cast in the presidential election. President-elect Joe Biden won the first count in Georgia by about 14,000 votes. Now, this recount is part of a legally required audit, and state officials say it will instill confidence in the results. Stephen Fowler is a reporter with Georgia Public Broadcasting. He's been following this one all the way through. Good morning, Stephen.
STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: When will we know the results of the recount?
FOWLER: So, Noel, state officials say they should have everything ready to make all of the data available and put out a report by noon. And they can be able to do so because there's a big paper trail that's been followed for the last week.
KING: OK. Did the recount turn up evidence of any irregularities?
FOWLER: Yes and no. The audit is supposed to count and verify that Joe Biden did, in fact, receive more votes than Donald Trump but not by how many votes. But during the process of this, four Georgia counties found ballots that they did not properly upload into the state's election system. In one case, it was a box of paper ballots that were just never scanned and entered. In other cases, it was memory cards that they had found and logged but failed to actually upload. It's about 6,000 or so ballots that, when all was said and done, ended up trimming the margin by about 2,000 votes. But it's not going to change the ultimate result because state officials say that it's the initial results that will stand. So hand counting being off here or there won't change the results.
KING: You know, election officials in Georgia, my guess is, are exhausted. I know that you've been talking to them. What are you hearing about all of the attention and the scrutiny that they've been facing?
FOWLER: Well, Noel, many of the officials and poll workers that I talked to knew that the 2020 election was going to be the most important in a long, long time. They just didn't know that it would keep going and going and going. We've had people working through the night entering in ballots in the days after the election. We've had people working hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, working to hand recount 5 million ballots in Georgia. And they're still not done because there's another election. We've got two Senate runoffs coming. So it's a very, very long season and the eyes of the nation are on Georgia.
KING: Stephen, I wonder if you could explain something. I was reading earlier that there's a chance in Georgia that there could be another recount. Can you explain what's going on there?
FOWLER: Right. So what just happened was a risk-limiting audit that was required before the state can certify results. Normally, it just uses math to randomly sample ballots to figure out that the result is correct. But because the margin was so close, they did a hand recount, which is different than a recount in Georgia law, which a loser can request that would machine count 5 million ballots again. And because of the margin, President Trump could by next Tuesday ask for all of these votes to be counted yet again.
KING: Wow. Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you, Stephen.
FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.