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Monday January 18th, 2021 4:41AM

Georgia hand tally of votes is complete, affirms Biden lead

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — A hand tally of ballots cast in Georgia for the presidential race has been completed, and it affirms Democrat Joe Biden's narrow lead over Republican President Donald Trump, according to results released Thursday by the secretary of state's office.

The Associated Press declared Biden the winner of Georgia and its 16 Electoral College votes on Thursday, after the hand count confirmed the former vice president leads Trump by roughly 12,000 votes out of nearly 5 million counted.

The complete hand recount stemmed from an audit required by a new state law and wasn’t in response to any suspected problems with the state’s results or an official recount request. The secretary of state’s office has until Friday at 5 p.m. to certify the election results. The results that will be certified are the totals certified by the counties, not those resulting from the audit, elections officials have said.

The governor then has to certify the slate of presidential electors by 5 p.m. Saturday.

The counties were supposed to finish the hand count by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Results were posted on the secretary of state's website Thursday evening.

No individual county showed a variation in margin larger than 0.73%, and the variation in margin in 103 of the state's 159 counties was less than 0.05%, a memo released with the results says.

“Every single vote was touched by a human audit team and counted,” said Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state's new voting system for the secretary of state's office. “Obviously, the audit confirms the original result of the election, namely that Joe Biden won the presidential contest in the state of Georgia.”

Once the state certifies the election results, the losing campaign has two business days to request a recount since the margin remains within 0.5%. That recount would be done using scanners that read and tally the votes and would be paid for by the counties, the secretary of state's office has said.

The AP did not call Biden the winner after election officials in Georgia initially completed and released results of the presidential election, because his margin over Trump in the state was 0.3 percentage points. It is AP’s practice not to call a race that is — or is likely to become — subject to a recount.

While not formally a recount under the letter of state law, the hand tally conducted to complete the audit was effectively a recount in practice. No available evidence suggests a machine recount of ballots already reviewed by hand will result in a different outcome. Therefore, AP declared Biden the winner in Georgia.

“The recount process simply reaffirmed what we already knew: Georgia voters selected Joe Biden to be their next president,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said in an email. “We are grateful to the election officials, volunteers and workers for working overtime and under unprecedented circumstances to complete this recount, as the utmost form of public service.”

The presidential race was selected by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for review under a new state law that says one race in the general election must be audited by hand to check that machines counted ballots accurately. Raffensperger said the tight margin of the presidential race meant a full hand count of ballots was necessary to complete the audit.

Votes that hadn't previously been counted were found in several counties during the audit, which required recertification of the election results in those counties.

In Floyd County, more than 2,500 ballots were discovered during the audit that hadn't previously been scanned, and the secretary of state's office had called for the firing of the county's chief elections clerk, Robert Brady. The county elections board on Thursday voted to issue a written reprimand to Brady and, because it was his second written reprimand within six months, to fire him in accordance with county policy, board member Melanie Conrad said in an email.

Several other counties found memory cards with votes that hadn't been uploaded and counted prior to the audit.

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