ATLANTA — Vote counting continued in several Georgia counties on Thursday as Americans watched to see whether the state gives Democrat Joe Biden the electoral votes he needs to become president.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Georgia, because the race between President Donald Trump and Biden is still too early to call. Trump had a narrow lead, but with thousands of ballots still being tallied in counties that tend to vote blue, Democrats had reason for optimism.
The secretary of state’s office announced that as of 2:40 p.m. there were about 47,277 votes remaining to be counted. Gabriel Sterling, who has overseen the implementation of Georgia’s new electronic voting system, said the secretary of state’s office has long said counting could take several days.
During an afternoon news conference in the state Capitol, Sterling did not offer an estimate for when he expected counties to finish tabulating their results. He said officials are working diligently and he emphasized his confidence in the legitimacy of the process.
“I think if anybody was going to try to rig a system they might have seen something a little less close than this,” Sterling said. “In this state in particular we take security very seriously. … We’re going to have a recount for president more than likely and the people will see that the outcome will stay essentially the same.”
The roughly 47,000 outstanding absentee ballots don’t include provisional ballots and ballots that need to be “cured” before being scanned. Sterling also noted that ballots cast before Election Day by military voters and citizens living overseas and received by 5 p.m. Friday will be tallied.
“I think all of us would agree that having an accurate count is much more vital — an accurate and fair count — is much more vital than having a fast one,” Sterling said.
Ballots were still being scanned in multiple counties, including Fulton, Cobb, Clayton and Gwinnett counties in metro Atlanta. As of Thursday afternoon, Chatham County, home to Savannah, had about 15,000 uncounted ballots, according to county election chairman Tom Mahoney. He said he expected a big chunk of those votes in the Democratic-leaning county to be posted Thursday evening.
Adjudication panels will then review any that were flagged electronically. These panels, including representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties, study each ballot for marks indicating voter intent. After each county certifies their total, the state will perform an audit before certifying the results, Sterling said.
No Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992, and it’s been 20 years since Georgia elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. But some cracks in the GOP grip on power were evident two years ago when Democrat Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the gubernatorial contest to Republican Brian Kemp and refused to concede.
Shifting demographics — with more Black, Latino and Asian American voters joined by transplants from other states — and voter registration efforts have made the state more competitive. The populous suburbs in Cobb and Gwinnett counties just north of Atlanta had already flipped for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and stayed there for Abrams in 2018.
Trump claimed early Wednesday that it was “clear that we have won Georgia.” But Biden nodded to the state’s potential swing status, saying as he spoke ahead of the president: “We’re still in the game in Georgia, although that’s not one we expected.”
With 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Georgia’s 16 electoral votes would clinch it for the Democrats.
In Fulton County, one woman sang “All Night Long” as election workers opened, flattened, stacked and scanned ballots inside Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Fulton Elections supervisor Rick Barron announced they had finished processing most votes by Thursday afternoon, with the exception of provisional ballots, overseas and military votes and absentee ballots that had to be “cured” because of issues such as a missing signature.
Roughly a hundred Trump supporters gathered outside the arena. They carried signs that read, “Foolton County=Fraud” and chanted “God bless Trump” and “Stop the steal.” Several Atlanta police officers monitored the scene.
Barron said any flagged ballots would be handed over to adjudication panels, which were set to review them.
On Thursday, Chatham County Judge James Bass dismissed a lawsuit by the Georgia Republican Party and the Trump campaign that essentially sought to ensure state laws are being followed on absentee ballots. The suit had raised concerns about 53 absentee ballots; county officials testified that all had been received on time.
Trump campaign officials said they were considering peppering a dozen other counties around the state with similar legal filings.
This story has been corrected to show that it has been 20 years, not 22, since a Georgia Democrat won a U.S. Senate race.
Associated Press contributors include Jeff Martin in Marietta and Ben Nadler, Brynn Anderson and Angie Wang in Atlanta.
Find AP’s full election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2020