After a historic recounting of all five million ballots cast in Georgia, Republican state leaders confirmed on Friday that President-elect Joe Biden did, in fact, defeat President Donald Trump in the state, despite baseless claims to the contrary from Trump and his supporters.
But the state’s embattled governor and its top elections official diverged sharply in how they relayed the news.
In brief remarks on Friday evening from Atlanta, Gov. Brian Kemp said that under state law he must certify Biden as the winner. But the Trump-backed Republican, who has faced immense pressure from the president and his base to generally do something about his election loss, coated that message in criticism for the election process and insisted the Trump campaign can still fight the result.
The certification of the result allows the Trump campaign to request a formal recount of votes, conducted by machine, and “other legal options” through that process, said Kemp. While Georgia elections officials have defended the integrity of the system in recent weeks, Kemp zeroed in on the fact that the audit found several thousand previously uncounted votes, a discovery that has outraged Trump supporters even though the new votes hardly moved the statewide margin of the race.
Calling it “completely unacceptable,” Kemp said Georgians “deserve better.”
The governor also suggested that election officials do more to match signatures on absentee ballots with signatures on file—a demand repeated by Trump and his allies—even as Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, has insisted the safeguards in place are stronger than ever.
Raffensperger, meanwhile, has borne the brunt of fury from Trump and his base for the election in Georgia, even receiving death threats for simply upholding the integrity of the system. The morning before Kemp’s conference, Raffensperger was frank about what had happened—that Biden had won Georgia.
“Like other Republicans, I'm disappointed our candidate didn't win Georgia's electoral votes,” he said at a Friday press conference. "Numbers don't lie."
After Nov. 3, in the wake of intense pressure from Trump and his Georgia allies, Raffensperger announced he’d take the unprecedented step of auditing each and every vote cast in Georgia, giving counties roughly nine days to make it happen.
Updates from election officials throughout that process left little indication it would meaningfully change the outcome. The audit process encountered several counties where tranches of previously uncounted votes were found, but ultimately, the margins hardly nudged, and officials defended their discovery as proof the audit process was, in fact, working.
On Thursday, Gabriel Sterling, an elections spokesman, tweeted that the audit confirmed that Biden won and there’d been virtually no variation. Initially, Georgia election officials reported Biden leading Trump by 13,558 votes out of the five million cast. After the audit, Biden’s lead had shrunk to 12,670—a difference of 888 votes.
With the result officially certified, Trump has the option of pursuing a traditional recount, as Kemp noted, because Biden’s victory margin of 0.26 percent falls within the 0.5 percent margin where recounts are allowed, under state law. Unlike the audit, which recounted all votes by hand, this recount would be conducted by rescanning ballots via machine.
Officials say such a process would be all but guaranteed to produce the same result as the Nov. 3 election and subsequent audit, but the Trump campaign may request the recount—which would be paid for by the state of Georgia—by Tuesday.
In a tweet hours before the announcement, Trump tried to taint the results with a slew of unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and appeared to accuse Georgia election officials of rushing to release the tally instead of adhering to a deadline.