A day after the head of the Trump campaign’s Georgia recount effort publicly called for a full hand recount of the state’s presidential race, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced the state would do exactly that following attacks on the elected official from within his own party.
The decision came Wednesday as President-elect Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by around 14,000 votes in the state, according to Georgia’s unofficial results.
“At 1 p.m. today I will make the official designation of which race will be the subject of the (risk limiting audit); at that time I will designate that the RLA will be the presidential race,” Raffensperger said during a press conference Wednesday. “With the margin being so close, it will require a full by-hand recount in each county. This will help build confidence. It will be an audit, a recount, and a recanvass all at once.”
A risk limiting audit was always in the cards in the state for the November election.
Back in June, the office described the audit as one that “follows established procedures to manually count a random sample of ballots in order to ensure that the tally reached by voting machines falls within a mathematically appropriate range agreed upon by national voting-integrity experts such as VotingWorks.”
But instead of going the random sample route, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office said “that essentially to do a risk limiting audit of an election this close that you’re pretty far down the road to doing a hand recount anyway, so Sec. Raffensperger decided to go ahead and order the whole recount.”
“We’ll be counting every single piece of paper, every single ballot, every single lawfully cast legal ballot,” Raffensperger told reporters during his Wednesday press conference.
Biden does not need to win Georgia to have secured the 270 votes needed to become the next president, but Trump and his allies have continued to allege large-scale voter fraud as the president has refused to concede the election to his Democratic challenger.
On a press call Wednesday, the Trump campaign made clear it sees the Georgia recount as one step in the broader plan to ensure that the president is re-elected.
“Every time we take a step along this process, we believe we are getting closer to our goal… the president winning these states and ultimately being re-elected,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign.
The Trump campaign’s point person for the Georgia recount, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), put it more neutrally. “We’re having a recount because this is the way you confirm these elections were held with integrity… the real question is, does the voter, Democrat or Republican, believe that their vote is actually counted?”
The “unprecedented” recount effort is expected to conclude before Nov. 20, said Stefan Passantino, counsel to the Trump campaign, when Georgia officials have to certify the election results in advance of the Electoral College convening in December. “Our understanding is that this process is gonna be intense, and concluded by Nov. 20,” said Passantino.
The Biden campaign said in a statement following the news Wednesday that “historically only races with exceptionally close margins have any likelihood of being overturned.”
“President-elect Biden’s margin is now at more than 14,000 votes,” Biden spokesperson Paige Hill said in the statement. “At the end of this hand recount process, we are confident the Election Day result will be reaffirmed: Georgians have selected Joe Biden as their next commander in chief.”
Despite Raffensperger’s office making clear that even though they did expect to find some fraud in the election, both the secretary of state and the statewide voting system implementation manager in Georgia have said in recent days that any fraud is unlikely to be enough to flip the advantage from Biden to Trump in the state.
Voter fraud is rare and does not happen in the large scale way Trump has alleged over the 2020 election. And the decision to move to a recount comes after Raffensperger had said last Friday that the presidential race would go to a recount given the close margins in the presidential race.
But in the days that followed, he faced heat from Republicans over his handling of the election, including a joint statement from Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. In a letter on Monday, the Republican senators, who are headed to a Jan. 5 runoff to keep their seats, called on Raffensperger to resign as they alleged without evidence or proof that “he has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections.”
The secretary of state dismissed their call, making clear he would not resign.
Collins, who the Trump campaign announced Sunday was leading their recount effort in the state, called in a statement Tuesday for Raffensperger to take three actions when it came to the election as Trump refuses to concede.
“Third, and most importantly, the Secretary of State should announce a full hand-count of every ballot cast in each and every county due to widespread allegations of voter irregularities, issues with voting machines, and poll watcher access,” Collins said.
There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Georgia, and the secretary of state’s office held a press conference Monday that began with an official disproving misinformation attacking the integrity of the election one by one.
When a reporter asked if the hand recount was happening because of the Trump campaign’s request Tuesday, Raffensperger said, “No, we’re doing this because it is really what makes the most sense for the national significance of this race and the closeness of this race.”
“We have to run a statewide audit,” he said. “This is the race that makes most sense, logically as I worked with our team, this is really what made the most sense and we'll be following the process on that.”