Georgia’s Thin Margin Puts Focus on Provisional Ballots

Democratic and Republican representatives review absentee ballots at the Fulton County Election preparation Center Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(CN) — The count in Georgia is winding down to the thinnest of margins. And in a race this close, every vote counts.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told reporters Friday morning despite only having a few thousand votes left to count, the race for president was still too close to call. There will be a recount, he said.

Despite each candidate getting millions of votes in Georgia, Vice President Joe Biden only leads the count by a difference of votes typically seen in, say, a mayoral race.

And provisional ballots – cast when a voter had some kind of issue at the poll and resolved typically days after a race has been called – may play a role in deciding the presidential race in the Peach State. But for a provisional ballot to count, it must be resolved by the end of business day three days after the election, or by 5 p.m. Friday.

Votes are still trickling in. For instance, the 8,890 outstanding military ballots postmarked by Election Day have until the end of the day Friday to be added to the count. 

“I can assure you that there are teams of twenty-somethings around the state who are Republicans and Democrats, finding those people with those absentee ballots to cure and they’re going through that process in county by county in ones and twos,” said Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager.

Sterling said it is unknown how many of outstanding ballots remain, between absentee ballots that must be cured and provisional ballots that need to be verified.

During the 2018 midterm elections, Georgians cast 21,604 provisional ballots, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Of those, 44.89%, or 9,699 ballots, were ultimately rejected.

A voter may be given a provisional ballot for a number of reasons, including if their registration was removed from the state’s database, if the voter is unable to provide photo identification at the polls, or if the voter shows up at the wrong polling precinct. Provisional ballots can also be used if a court extends voting hours.

The Georgia Democratic Party has been attempting to collect information about residents who voted provisionally so it can call the voters in an attempt to get provisional ballots resolved. On Thursday evening, it filed an emergency motion to get information about the provisional ballots cast in Forsyth County, a community along Lake Lainer to the northeast of Atlanta.

The party emailed a records request to election officials in the county on Wednesday and then showed up in person the day after. Failing to obtain the records, it filed suit in Forsyth County Superior Court saying county election officials violated Georgia’s open records law by not immediately providing the information, which could result in disenfranchised voters.

“Disenfranchising [the Democratic Party of Georgia’s] members and constituents raises the risk that Democratic candidates will be defeated resulting from provisional ballots that were not timely cured, directly impacting DPG’s mission to elect Democrats up and down the ticket,” the 12-page motion states.  

About 66% of voters in Forsyth County backed President Donald Trump, according to unofficial election results.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the Atlanta firm Krevolin and Horst, asked the court to order Forsyth’s election officials hand over the information by Thursday at 8 p.m.

However, it is not clear through online court records whether the matter was resolved. The Democratic Party and county election officials did not return requests for comment.

Similarly, the Georgia Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment about provisional ballots in Georgia.

At least one group has been calling on voter to fix the provisional ballots in time to be counted.

In a statement Thursday night, Poy Winichakul, staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center – which participated in litigation in Alabama over the state’s election protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic – urged Georgia voters who cast provisional ballots to show up at their local election office with documents that could help them cure their ballot, such as proof of a name change or residence and valid identification, before the 5 p.m. deadline.

“No matter what projections are made in races up and down the ballot before Friday at 5pm, they have until then to ensure their voice is heard,” Winichakul said.

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