Recount Finds Thousands of Georgia Votes Missing From Initial Counts

November 19, 2020by Mark Niesse and David Wickert, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)
Election workers in Fulton County during a recount of ballots in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

ATLANTA — The vote recount in Georgia is expected to confirm the election results, as intended. But it also exposed flaws in voting systems that almost resulted in some ballots being overlooked.

Election workers in three counties discovered a total of more than 3,300 new votes stored on memory cards that hadn’t been loaded into election computers. A different issue in Floyd County led to another 2,600 ballots going unscanned.

Those votes are now being counted, reducing Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump to 12,781 votes. Trump gained about 1,400 votes that county election officials hadn’t tallied before the recount.

The recount was scheduled to be completed Wednesday night, and full results were expected to be released Thursday.

Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said the process of reviewing results by hand is serving its purpose by finding any ballots that hadn’t been tabulated.

The secretary of state’s office has spoken with Dominion Voting Systems — the company that sold Georgia its $107 million voting equipment — about changes to the system that could help local officials account for all memory cards, he said. The state also will add training to help poll workers track memory cards.

“Frankly, there’s a responsibility on the election directors to know what they need to do,” Sterling said. “And if we can make it easier for them, we’d like to do that.”

The memory cards are a component of Georgia’s new voting system, which uses a combination of touchscreens and printers to generate paper ballots. When voters insert their paper ballots into scanning machines, their votes are stored on memory cards.

But unlike the state’s previous voting system, the new computers don’t raise as large of a red flag if a memory card hasn’t been accounted for.

County election workers were accustomed to “obnoxious” color-coding on election computers to help them account for all memory cards, but the new system uses more subtle checkboxes, Sterling said.

The missing memory cards were found in three counties: Douglas, Fayette and Walton. The Douglas votes favored Biden. The Fayette and Walton votes favored Trump.

“The old system would let us know that we had a memory card that hadn’t been counted,” said Darryl Hicks, chairman for the Fayette County elections board. “That would certainly be a good control to have in place. There are internal controls we need to have in place as well. We had opportunities to correct the problem.”

Hicks praised the recount and audit process for catching the error. When the manual count in Fayette exceeded the computer count by over 2,700 votes, it became clear that a memory card was missing.

The issue occurred at the Fayetteville library early voting location, where a memory card had been replaced because it was reaching capacity, Hicks said. Then on election night, workers loaded a memory card for each early voting location, forgetting the card that had been swapped out.

Still, Hicks acknowledged that election workers should have noticed discrepancies in vote totals before the recount began. State election data showed clear differences between ballots cast and votes recorded in Fayette and Floyd counties.

Election workers made similar mistakes in Walton and Douglas counties, where they realized they had missed memory cards on Tuesday and Wednesday, accounting for about 600 votes.

Margaret Arnett, a DeKalb County voter who created the Georgia Voter Guide website, said voters need to be assured that election officials will track every ballot.

“We need to fix the problems, but we don’t want to hurt voter confidence. I hear from voters all the time, ‘Why should I bother? It’s all corrupt,'” Arnett said. “When you hear about stuff like this, how can you blame them? We’ve got to get it right.”

The Biden campaign remained confident that Georgia’s recount will validate his win, said Patrick Moore, an attorney for the campaign.

“These developments are entirely consistent with what you would see in any full hand account because human error happens,” Moore said. “But through diligence, it’s uncovered and addressed. And that’s exactly what happened here. … There is no reason to believe that any widespread irregularity has occurred.”

In Floyd County, election workers missed counting about 2,600 ballots because they didn’t rescan them after replacing an optical scanner that had a problem, Sterling said. The Floyd issue wasn’t related to a missing memory card.

In all, the manual recount revealed nearly 6,000 additional votes in the presidential election. About 3,600 of them were for Trump and 2,200 were for Biden out of 5 million total votes cast.

Those four counties are rescanning the ballots they missed and recertifying their election totals for all races. No election outcomes are expected to change, and runoffs will still be required Jan. 5 for the U.S. Senate races between U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, and between U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Jon Ossoff.

The recount process found few, if any, changes in vote totals in most counties, which should help gain voters’ trust in elections, Sterling said.

“They need faith in the outcome of these elections, whether they win or lose, because that’s the bedrock of the transfer of power,” he said.

After the conclusion of the recount, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger faces a Friday deadline to certify statewide results, according to state law.

___

WHAT’S NEXT

Thursday: The secretary of state’s office plans to publish the results of the manual recount and audit online for each county. That information will allow voters to see differences between hand counts and initial computer counts.

Friday: Raffensperger plans to certify statewide results.

By Tuesday: Trump has a right to request another recount. Under Georgia law, candidates have the right to have all ballots rescanned by computers if they lost by less than half a percent.

___

(c)2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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