Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during an audit, Nov. 16, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia.
Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during an audit, Nov. 16, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia.

ATLANTA - Election officials across Georgia are staring down a Wednesday deadline to complete a hand tally of the presidential race in the state.

The hand recount of nearly 5 million votes stems from an audit required by a new state law and wasn't in response to any suspected problems with the state's results or an official recount request. The law requires the audit to be done before the counties' certified results can be certified by the state.

The deadline for the counties to complete the audit is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, ahead of the Friday deadline for state certification.

A Chatham County election official posts a sign in the public viewing area before the start of a ballot audit, Nov. 13.
Georgia Hand Tally of Presidential Vote Gets Underway
County election staffers will work with the paper ballots in batches, dividing them into piles for each candidate

The hand count is meant to ensure that the state's new election machines accurately tabulated the votes and isn't expected to change the overall outcome, state election officials have repeatedly said.

Going into the count, Democrat Joe Biden led Republican President Donald Trump by a margin of about 14,000 votes. Previously uncounted ballots discovered in two counties during the hand count will reduce that margin to about 13,000, said Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state's new voting system for the secretary of state's office.

Once the results are certified, if the margin between the candidates remains within 0.5%, the losing campaign can request a recount. That would be done using scanners that read and tally the votes and would be paid for by the state, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said.

A law passed last year requires the audit but leaves it up to the secretary of state to select the race to be audited. Raffensperger said he chose the presidential race because of its significance and tight margin. Because of the close results, he said, a full hand recount would be needed to complete the audit.

Over the two weeks since the election, Raffensperger has been under attack from fellow Republicans, from the president on down.

Georgia's two U.S. senators, who both face stiff competition from Democrats in Jan. 5 runoff elections, last week called for Raffensperger's resignation.

"The secretary of state has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections," Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler wrote in a letter.

U.S. Rep Doug Collins, who is running Trump's Georgia recount effort, has traded barbs on social media with the secretary of state. And over the weekend, the president tweeted that Raffensperger — whom he endorsed in a runoff election two years ago — is "a so-called Republican (RINO)," using the acronym for "Republican in name only."

Raffensperger has steadfastly defended the state's handling of the election and the subsequent hand tally. He has said his office has seen no evidence of widespread voting fraud or irregularities and he was confident the audit would affirm the election results.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the presidential race in Georgia, where Biden led Trump by 0.3 percentage points. There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, but state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. It is AP's practice not to call a race that is – or is likely to become – subject to a recount.

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.