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Few changes in recounted presidential votes


  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • Nov. 23, 2020 - 2:22 PM

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Few changes in recounted presidential votes

Sarah Fay Campbell / The Newnan Times-Herald

Teams of Coweta poll workers spent two days counting, by hand, 77,182 ballots in a hand count of the presidential race.

Editor's note: This story contains updated information about the counting of the ballots that contained both a vote for Joe Biden and a write-in for Joe Biden. The original story follows the update.

In Coweta County, when all was said and done, Coweta’s vote totals in a hand count of the presidential race matched the machine-scanned totals from Election Day.

During the hand count process, any ballot with a write-in vote for president was put in a write-in pile and all write-ins are then looked at by a ballot review board.

During the hand count, there was a ballot or two where the voter colored in the oval for Joe Biden, and also wrote in Biden, according to Coweta Elections Director Jane Scoggins.

While the Coweta office was still finishing up the processes for the audit, which included the hand count, it was thought that those votes for Biden had not been counted as votes for Biden in previous totals.

However, once the process was complete, it was found that those ballots had been counted for Biden in the original results, as well. The ballots had gone through the same ballot review board process during the original counting of ballots that they went through during the audit.

* * *

Coweta County’s election officials completed their audit and hand count of the presidential election Sunday afternoon.

The only change in Coweta’s presidential election numbers was some write-in votes for Joe Biden. Those were sent to a ballot review board and counted, said Coweta Elections Director Jane Scoggins.

The count itself – of 77,182 ballots – was actually finished Saturday night, but the final checking, balancing and uploading was done on Sunday.

The count started at 9 a.m. Friday with eight teams of two auditors. For Saturday, Scoggins said they added two more teams.

The process was very organized, and Scoggins said she was very pleased. The audit teams only took lunch and bathroom breaks, and the bathroom breaks could only be taken once a team had completed counting a box of ballots.

The count consisted of each person reading off the name on each ballot, placing those in stacks for each candidate, then counting out those stacks. If the final count per box didn’t match the number of ballots in the box, the team had to recount the entire box, Scoggins said.

If it did not match the second time, a different audit team would count that box. Scoggins said there were a few times a box had to be counted a second time.

The hand count is part of the state’s risk-limiting audit. The intent of the audit is to ensure that the electronic scanners counted the ballots correctly. Normally, the audit would consist of different counties counting random numbers of ballots. Because the presidential election is so close, it was decided to count every ballot.

Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. is the deadline for counties to complete their audit, so that the state can certify results by Friday.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office held two press conferences Tuesday to discuss the audit and answer questions about the process.

By Tuesday afternoon, 101 counties had completed their count, said Gabriel Sterling, the state’s election system manager.

Out of that 101, 57 counties got the exact same total in the hand count as they did on the machine count. Others were off by just a few votes.

“Those in the single digits, we believe those are slight errors and not ballots that were uncounted,” Sterling said. “Some went up or down by one ballot, because two absentee ballots got stuck together when they went through the scanner and a human being did a stack of 11 when it should have been a stack of 10,” Sterling said.

“It’s pretty apparent we did not see widespread voter fraud,” he said. There almost certainly were some double votes or illegal votes, such as felons voting. There always are.

But those numbers will likely be in the low hundreds – nothing close to the current 12,929 vote margin between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

The office does have several active investigations open, including two in Fulton County. One of those is investigating the county’s response to a water leak at State Farm Arena, where counting was being done.

During the audit process, Floyd County found that information for about 2,600 votes had not been uploaded before the county certified elections. Floyd will recertify, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has called for the Floyd County elections director to resign. Of those, 1,643 were for Trump and 865 were for Biden.

Sterling also discussed the signature verification process for absentee ballots – and the misinformation surrounding changes that were made in March.

When an absentee ballot application arrives in a county election’s office, the signature on the ballot application must be consistent with other signatures the office has on file, including electronic signatures in the election system. The signature on the ballot, when it arrives, must also be consistent.

If the signature is not consistent, the ballot is rejected, but county election officials then contact the voter to give the voter an opportunity to “cure” the ballot by providing a photo ID and signature.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation provided training to help county election officials compare signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Sterling addressed the decrease in the number of rejected absentee ballots from 2018 to 2020. The vast majority of rejected ballots are rejected because they arrive after the deadline, Sterling said – not because of signature issues.

Typically, approximately 0.15 to 0.2 percent of ballots are rejected for signature mismatch, Sterling said.

In fact, Fulton County rejected a higher percentage of ballots for signature issues in 2020 than the county did in 2018, Sterling said.

“A higher rejection rate would probably show the system is working the way it is supposed to,” he said. “As far as we can tell, we’ve had no instances of people saying they know signature match is being done incorrectly.”

If there is evidence of fraud or signature match being done incorrectly, the Secretary of State’s Office wants to see it.

“We want evidence. Going on Twitter, going on Facebook and making claims is not providing evidence,” Sterling said.