A recount that’s not strictly a recount.
That’s what the Georgia Secretary of State announced Georgia would be doing over the next few days. Local election staff and volunteers will be counting every ballot cast in the 2020 presidential election, but they’ll be doing so in an audit of the election results.
“The state law requires a risk-limiting audit. We found out (Wednesday) the audit is being combined with the recount,” said Chris Channell, Glynn County Elections and Registration supervisor. “State law also says recounts should be done by machine.”
Audits must be done by hand, recounts by machine. This year’s audit will be a recount in effect.
“They’ve also said, if the losing party after the hand recount still isn’t happy with that, they can demand a machine recount,” Channell said.
An audit is typically conducted using a small fraction of the total votes cast. The point, according to officials with VotingWorks, the company that brought the auditing system and software to Georgia, is to provide a high percentage of certainty that the results of an election were correct without resorting to a full recount.
But that doesn’t mean a risk-limiting audit, or RLA, can’t also be a full recount, according to VotingWorks founder Ben Adida.
In a statement Wednesday, Adida said the narrower the margin in a race, the more ballots will be needed to provide that high certainty the election was called correctly. With a 0.3 percent margin between Republican incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, Adida explained that the sample size would be quite large.
“Thus, we expect the Georgia RLA this year to require audit boards across the state to examine every cast ballot,” Adida said.
While not a requirement of state code, Channell and the staff of the Glynn County Board of Elections are working on a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’re going to push,” Channell said.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a Tuesday press conference that he knew the task would be a hard one when he imposed the deadline.
“It will be a heavy lift, but we will work with counties to get this done before state certification,” Raffensperger said.
Channel asked both political parties to supply 10 volunteers to work eight-hour days today through Wednesday. They’ll get an hour lunch and short breaks in the mornings and afternoons, but they will still be “long, grueling days.”
While it’s a lot of work to put on poll workers, the elections office is not too worried about burnout among the regular volunteer pool.
“I think there’s a lot of interest and concern in doing it right and in doing the right thing,” board member Patricia Featherstone said.
Despite the heavy task, Channell said he thinks combining the audit and recount was a good idea. Raffensperger was bound to catch flak no matter what he did. He’s already been asked to step down by sitting U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
But combining the two works out well for the local elections office, he said.
In addition, the state is likely to get a more definitive result than an audit or a machine recount, Channell said.
Election Board Chair Patricia Gibson’s only worry is volunteers getting their due credit.
“All these 20 or 40 volunteers we’ll have tomorrow, they’re not getting paid for that,” Gibson said. “They’re giving a whole day or more of their time just to support and be a part of the process, and there’s no way we would do it without them.”
Ten teams of volunteers will open and sort ballots by candidate before recounting them in groups of 10, Channell explained. He plans to start at 8 a.m. today.
The whole process is open to the public at the Office Park Building, 1815 Gloucester St. in Brunswick, and online.
A Dec. 1 Public Service Commission runoff would have complicated the recount. Raffensperger said it would have been “untenable” to ask election workers and volunteers to juggle runoff preparation and a recount before announcing the state runoff would be moved to coincide with a U.S. Senate runoff on Jan. 5.
The audit will be broadcast live to facebook.com/GlynnElections.
The deadline to register for the runoff is Dec. 7. For more information on registering, contact the board of elections at 912-554-7060 or visit www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.