A crew of six experienced poll workers started sorting ballots into Biden and Trump stacks and counting them at 9 a.m. Friday. By 5 p.m., they had Bulloch County’s part in Georgia’s state-ordered hand recount of votes in the presidential race about half completed.
About 15,000 ballots had been looked at and the votes counted, said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones. That total already included all of the county’s absentee ballots and most of the touchscreen machine ballot printouts from in-person early voting at the County Annex. Ahead, for Saturday, lay the printouts from the two other, shorter-term in-person early voting locations, and then some of the printouts from the Election Day voting at precincts.
The crew would start back at 9 a.m. Saturday but might not continue all day, Jones said. There might also be two additional poll workers. With the elections office closed to weekday traffic, an additional table can set up.
“If we make good progress (Saturday), then odds are we’re going to take Sunday off and come back Monday,” Jones said.
The progress seemed remarkable for a first-ever process involving more than 30,000 pieces of paper in Bulloch County alone. But the poll workers only have to count the votes in the presidential race and don’t have to look at any of the other races or questions.
Officially, what Georgia Secretary of State of State Brad Raffensperger ordered Wednesday was an “audit” of the presidential election result, not a recount, which could be requested later by a candidate in such a close race. But his instructions exceeded the State Election Board’s requirements for an audit, which would ordinarily examine only a sampling of ballots. In effect, Raffensperger ordered a total recount of the presidential race in all of Georgia’s 159 counties.
It’s yet another first-time task for Georgia’s local election workers in 2020, Jones had noted when asked about the process Thursday.
“As you know, this was our first year with the new equipment and this is our first time in doing this,” she said.
It is Georgia’s new multi-device touchscreen voting equipment, which produces a printout that each voter feeds into a scanner, that made this type of recount possible. The previous one-piece touchscreen machines produced no individual printouts, so only the absentee ballots would have been hand-countable.
Before taking part in a one-hour, state-provided training session Thursday morning, Jones had no idea of the procedure that would be used for the recount, she had said in an email. But she quickly scheduled the first six poll workers, who work with her regularly on other election tasks, to begin the sorting and recounting.
County election officials have until midnight Wednesday to complete their recounts. The deadline for Raffensperger to certify statewide results is next Friday, Nov. 20.
In addition to poll workers to count votes, the local elections office was also expected to have its Vote Review Panel on hand, Jones said. The panel, which determines a voter’s intent when uncertainty arises, consists of people chosen by the county Democratic and Republican party committees and by the Board of Elections and Registration staff.
Review panel members were present when the process began Friday, but later in the day they were merely on call. They had done their work with the absentee ballots in the original count, Jones said, and the machine printouts left little need for judgment calls.
Statewide, as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Georgia’s original vote tally stood at 2,471,917 for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and 2,457,846 for current President Donald J. Trump, or 49.52% to 49.24%. That was a difference of 14,071 votes, or a margin of less than 1/3 of 1% in Biden’s favor, out of 4,991,820 votes counted in Georgia in the presidential race.
Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen had received 62,057 votes, or 1.24%.
If Biden’s slim margin in Georgia holds or improves, he will receive all 16 of the state’s electoral votes. But he was already considered the president-elect because of his wins in other states ensuring him more than the 270 total Electoral College votes needed.
In Bulloch County, Trump was the choice of 18,386 voters, or 61.12%, to 11,243 voters for Biden, or 37.37%, and 455 voters for Jorgensen, or 1.55%, in results Jones had certified Nov. 6. That was 30,084 local votes for president, and the poll workers also have to look at ballots of voters who didn’t make a presidential choice, just to make sure.
About 130 of Georgia’s counties were mapped on the Secretary of State’s Office election website as having certified election results as of Thursday. But now, all counties’ results are subject to the recount.
A difficult season
Jones said she is very thankful to her office staff and the poll workers for their dedication and to others in the community for their support during a challenging election season and a difficult time for her personally.
“I don’t think I would have made it these last few weeks without their support, love and prayers,” she said. “My momma was my biggest supporter when things at work were rough, and I lost her in April 2019.… Bonnie had taken her place.”
Bonnie Lanier Rushing, who was killed by a stranger at her home in the Leefield community on Oct. 23, was Jones’ sister. Their mother, Geraldine “Gerri” Fordham Lanier, was 80 when she passed way in April of last year.
Jones took leave through the week after her sister’s death but returned to work Nov. 2, the day before Election Day.