Largest Hand Re-tally of Ballots in US History Gets Underway in Georgia

An employee of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections processes ballots in Atlanta, Ga., on Nov. 4, 2020. (Brandon Bell/Reuters)

Election officials in Georgia’s 159 counties are undertaking a hand recount of the presidential race stemming from a “risk-limiting audit” that is required by state law, which when completed will be the largest hand re-tally in the history of the United States.

The law requires that one race be audited by hand to check that the machines counted the ballots accurately. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger chose to audit the presidential race and said the tight margin, with Democrat Joe Biden leading President Donald Trump by 14,072 votes—means a full hand count is needed.

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, told a press conference on Nov. 12 that the hand recount is a normal part of the risk-limiting audit and its objective is to “instill confidence” in the accuracy of electronic voting machines and, more broadly, the election.

“Right now, there’s a swath of voters in the state and around the country that will say those machines cheated, those machines miscounted, somebody hacked them, something happened, because there’s no way that that guy won, there’s no way that guy lost,” Sterling said, adding, “that is the reason we’ve chosen to do this audit in this time, in this way.”

The audit is a new requirement that was included in a 2019 law that also provided guidelines that the state used to purchase a new election system from Dominion Voting Systems for more than $100 million.

President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet that Dominion software “DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE.” The president’s reelection campaign announced that it will file a lawsuit in Michigan that, besides alleging voting irregularities, will seek a review of the Dominion software, which has been linked to issues in several states, including in several counties in Georgia that saw voting machines crash.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and other GOP officials claimed that a glitch in the Dominion software switched 6,000 GOP votes to Democrats in Michigan, a switch that was spotted and later corrected.

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy initially attributed the problem to a combination of a software glitch and human error, but later said the Dominion software had no part in the mistake and blamed the problem solely on human error. Both Dominion and the Michigan Secretary of State have disputed allegations that its software led to vote-tallying problems.

Dominion Voting Systems said in a statement that it “denies claims about any vote switching or alleged software issues with our voting systems.”

A Nov. 12 joint statement from a coalition of federal and state elections officials, released by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that spearheaded federal election protection efforts, said: “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

“Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result,” the officials said in the statement, adding that “we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections.”

Sterling, in his press briefing, said the manual recount “will be the largest hand re-tallying audit in the history of the United States” and that he expects it will yield numbers that are “slightly different.”

He referred to a manual recount in Michigan in the 2016 election, which involved the re-tallying of around 2 million ballots and saw Trump pick up around 750 votes and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton picking up around 150 votes.

He said the risk-limiting audit hand re-tally would start at 9 a.m. on Friday and would conclude at midnight on Nov. 18.

While there is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Biden’s lead stood at 0.28 percentage points as of Thursday afternoon.

Once the results from the risk-limiting audit are certified, the losing campaign can request a regular recount, which will be done using scanners that read and tally the votes, Raffensperger said.

The Trump campaign has called on Georgia election officials to conduct a full hand recount of all ballots and take other steps to ensure “confidence in our electoral process.” This includes a full comparison of absentee ballots cast and in-person and provisional ballots cast, and for carrying out a voter eligibility check to make sure no felons or other ineligible individuals cast a vote in the state.

‘Never Bet Against Me’: Trump Confident He’ll Get to 270 Electoral College Votes

President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters after a rally in Newtown, Pa., on Oct. 31, 2020. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump, in a new interview, said he is confident that he will get to 270 Electoral College votes when all legal challenges, canvasses, audits, and recounts are resolved.

Trump told the Washington Examiner that he heard many people tell him that he should concede in recent days, but he’s going to continue to fight.

He issued a light-hearted warning to people telling him there is no hope: “Never bet against me.”

“We’re going to win Wisconsin,” Trump told the Examiner. “Arizona—it’ll be down to 8,000 votes, and if we can do an audit of the millions of votes, we’ll find 8,000 votes easy. If we can do an audit, we’ll be in good shape there.”

And in Georgia, he said, “We’re going to win … because now, we’re down to about 10,000, 11,000 votes, and we have hand-counting.” Trump was responding to an announcement made by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office that a full manual recount will be carried out.

“Hand-counting is the best. To do a spin of the machine doesn’t mean anything. You pick up 10 votes. But when you hand-count—I think we’re going to win Georgia,” he added to the paper.

In Michigan and Pennsylvania, his campaign’s legal strategy is focusing on protesting the exclusion of GOP observers during critical time periods during vote-counting, Trump said.

“They wouldn’t let our poll watchers and observers watch or observe,” Trump added. “That’s a big thing. They should throw those votes out that went through during those periods of time when [Trump observers] weren’t there. We went to court, and the judge ordered [the observers] back, but that was after two days, and millions of votes could have gone through. Millions. And we’re down 50,000.”

The secretaries of state in Pennsylvania and Michigan have denied allegations from Trump’s team and Republicans that observers were not allowed there.

Poll workers count ballots inside the Maricopa County Election Department in Phoenix, Ariz. on Nov. 5, 2020 (Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)

In Michigan, two GOP state lawmakers sent a letter to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s earlier this week and alleged there was a bevy of irregularities and possible fraud.

Their letter made reference to allegations about unsecured ballots arriving at the TCF Center in Detroit without a chain of custody and without any envelopes, saying it included a batch of about 40,000 ballots that came early on Nov. 4, the day after Election Day. They also said there have been reports of “illegal and official intimidation and interference” with election observers and poll watchers, including harassment of challengers, unequal treatment of challengers, refusal to record the challengers’ claims, and removal of challengers “if they politely voiced a challenge.”

Meanwhile, a state court in Pennsylvania on Thursday ruled that Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar improperly changed a deadline on a key voter identification provision two days before Election Day. Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, who ruled in favor of Trump’s campaign, said some late ballots should not be counted in the state.

Several prominent Republicans and legal experts said Trump’s legal challenges are well within his rights and that Americans should not be alarmed by them. Some legacy news outlets and top Democrats have called on Trump to drop the lawsuits while accusing the president of engaging in rhetoric that seeks to undermine the credibility of the election.

“Americans should not worry about these suits,” wrote Jed Shugerman, a professor at Fordham Law School, for the Washington Post. “Indeed, we should welcome them.” Shugerman, however, said he believes some of the lawsuits will be thrown out in court.

Later in the interview, Trump said that the fight for the Electoral College could turn around in a few weeks. “I don’t know. It’s probably two weeks, three weeks,” Trump said of a possible timetable.