The state of Georgia has been holding its breath since the night of Nov. 6 when neither Brian Kemp nor Stacey Abrams definitively took home the title of Georgia governor. While Kemp has declared victory, resigned as Georgia Secretary of State and begun his transition, Abrams has yet to concede, pushing forth a lawsuit for a recount of ballots in Atlanta counties and an extension for recounts.
In the midst of accusations of voter suppression and multiple lawsuits, provisional ballots have been recounted in multiple counties within Georgia.
All provisional ballots were to be verified by 4 p.m., Monday, Nov. 12 by the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections. After a meeting with the BOE that stretched to more than four hours, voters were met with the same answer they heard last week: Keep waiting.
Up in the air
A decision was made to recount all ballots from eight different precincts in Clarke County after an unexpected presentation of petitions by BOE member Jesse Evans. The petitions have been filed under a Georgia statute titled “Recount of recanvass of votes” (21-2-495) alleging that provisional and absentee ballots were counted incorrectly.
The recanvassing process should be completed by 2 p.m. today, Nov. 13, following an issued delay of ballot certification with a new deadline of Friday evening, Nov. 16.
“This is about the integrity of our elections, this is about what the voters in our community want,” Evans said. “If you choose not to do it and not to try, then basically you’re throwing these back in their faces. That’s what you’re doing. And you're saying that they don’t matter.”
Vice chairwoman Michele Simpson originally did not second Evans’ motion to request a meeting starting at 10:45 a.m. Nov. 13 but changed her mind after listening to concerns from attendees.
“I don’t know how [recanvassing is] going to happen, I really just don’t,” Simpson said.
The statute made it necessary for the BOE to move forward with this recanvassing, stating it will occur either through motions set forth by the superintendent –– a title held by the ACC BOE –– or petitions from three electors of any precinct.
Originally, the ACC BOE decided to host an informational meeting regarding issues over the handling of 176 provisional ballots cast during this year’s midterm election.
Charlotte Sosebee, director of elections and voter registration, presented all ballots in question.
Absentee ballots were also presented, with 12 out of 15 being accepted by the BOE.
Two members of the board were not present: Alison Bracewell McCullick and Secretary E. Walter Wilson. A minimum of three members present are required in order to pass motions.
Board members present –– Chairman Charles Knapper, Simpson and Evans –– made the decision to move forward with a recanvassing of votes for the following precincts that put forward petitions to the board:
Sosebee originally said all documentation had to be ready by 9 a.m. on Nov. 13 in order for it to be sent to the Secretary of State's Office in time for a 5 p.m. deadline. After the discussion, she reluctantly agreed that if all qualifications are met for the recanvassing, there's a chance of it being completed in time.
“It’s going to be done,” Sosebee said. “We’re going to recanvass, we’re going to do it right. We’re not rushing.”
Questions of legality
A final decision required two separate recesses and public input from attendees. County Attorney William C. Berryman continuously expressed concern regarding time constraints on the BOE to correctly complete this process. He also argued that a potential failure in completing recanvassing by the deadline violates Georgia statute 21-2-493, which lists the 5 p.m. deadline.
“That’s the concern I’ve had all along,” Berryman said. “You’re trying to do something on the fly, and if you don't have all your poll workers here, you don't have a quorum. If you haven’t given your notice right, if you haven't given the opportunity for your candidates and your party to be here, are you making the process more vulnerable than it was before?”
It was determined that the BOE may have to present themselves in front of the State Election Board if they violate state law by missing the deadline, Sosebee said. Any other consequence is unknown.
According to the statute, notice must be sent regarding the recanvassing to the custodian of voting machines, “the county or municipal chairperson of each party or body affected by the recanvass,” and all candidates on the ticket.
Following the statue, at least three BOE members and poll workers from each precinct involved in the petitions must meet to recount all the ballots from the voting machines used.
“You don’t have to believe all of the press you see out there to understand that there's something questionable going on in the Georgia elections.”
-Ryan Heron, Attorney
Evans originally asked all necessary staff reconvene at 7 a.m. to recanvass, but he and Knapper would have been the only ones available at that time, missing a necessary third member. Simpson and Wilson will both be out of town, and McCullick will not be available until 10:45 a.m.
In order for the recanvassing process to be successful, Sosebee said it must be completed by 2 p.m. in order to give time for a transfer to the Secretary of State Office in Atlanta.
Sosebee said a total of 219 ballots in ACC were in question after all were counted and collected following election day. Forty-three ballots were presented by the 7 p.m. deadline on Friday Nov. 9 for verification. These 43 ballots had been cast in the wrong precinct, Sosebee said.
Following that count, 10 additional ballots were brought into question after 7 p.m., and Sosebee found five additional ballots she wanted to present in question. These 15 ballots are pending approval and will not be decided upon until the Abrams campaign lawsuit reaches a decision.
From the original count, 161 ballots were rejected because of five different reasons, including registration in a county other than ACC, voting inactivity for two consecutive elections, lack of registration at voting time and the inability to identify a voter.
In order for ACC to be included in the potential actions of the Abrams lawsuit, a judge would have to declare that ACC faces similar conditions as the original counties involved, Berryman said.
“You don’t have to believe all of the press you see out there to understand that there's something questionable going on in the Georgia elections,” said attorney Ryan Heron, who was present at the meeting.
Berryman argued there’s a difference between certifying ballots and validating ballots. Certifying would mean the ballots count, but validating votes received past the deadline previously mentioned would allow the ballots to be “prepackaged” in case a decision was made for an extension passed the statute. This type of decision has not been made.