ATLANTA (CN) — Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp may have declared himself the winner of Georgia's contentious gubernatorial race Wednesday evening, but Democrat Stacey Abrams refuses to back down, maintaining that uncounted ballots could force a runoff in the race.
The Democratic Party of Georgia, with the support of Abrams' legal team, filed a lawsuit Thursday evening in federal court against election officials in one Georgia county alleging that voters were not given an adequate opportunity to cast ballots by mail during the election.
The Democratic Party of Georgia claims that Dougherty County did not give voters enough time to mail in their ballots after delays interfered with the mail-out.
"During October, a confluence of extraordinary circumstances–first a judicial injunction, then a state holiday, then a natural disaster–prevented Dougherty County from coming even close to meeting its statutory deadline for providing absentee ballots to electors," the complaint states, referring to complications caused by a lawsuit over the ballot's language and disruptions due to Hurricane Michael.
Kurt Kastorf, a member of Abrams' litigation team, told reporters on Thursday that some Dougherty County residents requested ballots by mail and never received them. Others did not receive their ballots until it was too late to return them by the election deadline.
"Upon information and belief, the Board staff put considerable effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael into issuing absentee ballots, including working on evenings and weekends, but they were simply too far behind. The Board was continuing to mail absentee ballots until at least as late as October 29, 2018, just days from the election and more than a month behind the September deadline fixed by statute," the complaint alleges.
The Georgia Democratic Party claims that the problems in Dougherty County were compounded by unusually slow mail delivery. Since the county's mail is routed through Tallahassee, Fla., voters were left waiting up to four days just to receive their absentee ballot from county officials.
Absentee ballots that are received by the county after the close of polls on Election Day are not counted.
But the complaint points out that not all absentee ballots are treated this way. Overseas and military ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received by the county within a three-day period following the election are considered valid and are included in the certified election results.
The Georgia Democratic Party seeks an injunction instructing Dougherty County election officials to treat the late ballots "similarly to those sent from electors overseas, counting them if they were postmarked by election day and received by the county within three days following the election."
The party is seeking an order requiring that the absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within the three-day period following the election be counted, arguing that their requested relief will not burden the county because county officials do not need to certify the election results until Nov. 13.
In a statement Thursday following the Abrams campaign's announcement of the party's intent to sue Dougherty County, a representative for Kemp characterized the plan as desperate.
"Stacey Abrams can't accept the fact that Georgians rejected her radical agenda at the ballot box, so now she's desperately trying to steal this election in the courtroom," Ryan Mahoney, communications director for Kemp's campaign, said.
"After realizing that it was mathematically impossible to win the race with votes outstanding, Abrams' team has decided to file frivolous, politically motivated lawsuits that will force elections officials to break the law and add votes that didn't exist on Election Day. Simply put: Abrams' campaign is trying to create new votes, because they know it's their only remaining hope," Mahoney said.
According to the secretary of state's office, Kemp is in the lead with 50.3 percent of nearly 4 million votes. Kemp reportedly received 63,000 votes more than Abrams, a sufficient majority to push him out of the margin required for a runoff race.
But the question of how many provisional and absentee ballots remain uncounted is still up in the air. Kemp said during a press conference with Gov. Nathan Deal Thursday morning that the number is less than 21,000, but the Abrams campaign argues that the total could be higher.
Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams' campaign manager, said Thursday that the campaign believes Abrams needs just 25,000 votes to trigger a runoff or approximately 23,000 votes to trigger a recount. If necessary, a runoff race would be scheduled for Dec. 4.
"This is about the integrity of the elections in the state of Georgia. Brian Kemp can't just walk away from that," Groh-Wargo said Thursday.
John Chandler, a member of Abrams' legal team, said Thursday that the campaign is prepared "to litigate until we have determined every person's vote has been counted."
County officials are required to certify the election returns by Tuesday. The state is required to certify a statewide final result by Nov. 20.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.