Biden’s lead in Georgia likely to hold despite 2,600 ballots found in Floyd County

President-elect Joe Biden (left) maintains a close lead in Georgia over President Donald Trump (right) as a statewide hand recount nears completion. (Biden and Trump campaign videos)

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to maintain his lead in Georgia as a statewide audit of nearly 5 million ballots wraps up shortly, despite the discovery Monday of around 2,600 uncounted ballots in Floyd County that went mostly for President Donald Trump, according to a top state elections official.

Biden, who is poised to be the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, has held a lead of more than 14,000 votes over the past week and after several news outlets called the race for the former vice president on Friday.

On Monday, the state’s voting system manager, Gabriel Sterling, said around 2,600 votes were found through the audit that began last week after officials in Republican-leaning Floyd County discovered they had failed to upload a memory card containing electronic counts of those votes on Election Day.

Locating those 2,600 votes is set to cut Biden’s lead over Trump by 800 votes in Georgia, leaving the Republican president with a deficit unlikely to be surmounted once the audit’s hand recount finishes by a Wednesday deadline ahead of the election’s formal certification later this week, Sterling said.

“Nothing is making us see any substantive change in the outcome,” said Sterling, a top deputy in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. “It’s verifying what we saw on election night.”

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Sterling also continued to dismiss claims from Trump and his allies of alleged voter fraud in Georgia as state and county officials gear up to hold a pair of pivotal U.S. Senate runoff elections that could decide the balance of power in Congress.

Republican allies of Trump, led in Georgia by outgoing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, have lodged unfounded claims of ballot harvesting, software tampering, improper signature verification for absentee ballots and voting by dead persons.

State and county election officials have found no evidence in support of those claims pushed by Trump and his allies after counting 4.3 million of the nearly 5 million votes in Georgia as of Monday afternoon, said Sterling, who along with Raffensperger is a Republican.

“Those people out there undermining this thing through crazy, over-the-top claims on cable news, if you have evidence, call us,” Sterling said Monday. “We will investigate any credible leads someone gives us.”

As for the ballots found in Floyd County, Sterling attributed the issue to human error and “gross negligence” on the part of the county’s election director, Robert Brady, who has been asked to resign by Raffensperger’s office.

State officials have been unable to reach Brady to discuss what caused the issue since the Floyd elections director is in quarantine due to COVID-19, Sterling said. An investigator from Raffensperger’s office is in Floyd County now to determine exactly what happened.

Even with the Floyd County issue, Sterling on Monday called the unprecedented statewide audit effort a success as elections boards in the state’s 159 counties closed in on recounting every ballot by hand. He said the state next plans to create a website to publish data on the recount results for transparency.

“We’re about accuracy, we’re about process and we’re about following the law,” Sterling said.

Senate runoffs in Georgia off to hot start with big-name visitors, attack ads

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida rallies with Georgia’s Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler at Black Diamond Grill in Forsyth County on Nov. 13, 2020. (Photo Beau Evans)

CUMMING – The hotly contested U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia got off to a bang this week with packed campaign rallies, new attack ads swarming local television airwaves and visits from both of Florida’s senators.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida campaigned with Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Friday, energizing conservatives at a Forsyth County restaurant just days after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio did the same in Cobb County.

Like Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, Perdue and Loeffler have linked their campaigns ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections in a bid to drive up Republican voter turnout in a state set for a flood of outside dollars and big-name politicians.

“If I win, she wins,” Perdue said at Friday’s rally. “If she wins, I win.”

As the Republican senators stumped for votes in metro Atlanta, Perdue opponent Ossoff criss-crossed the state from Savannah to Columbus this week to maintain voter momentum after the Nov. 3 general election saw Georgia flip to the Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1992.

Ossoff, who owns an investigative journalism company, and Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, have focused their campaigns on health-care issues and on contrasting their backgrounds with Perdue and Loeffler, who are both wealthy businesspersons.

“This race is about who you think best represents you,” Warnock said in a new ad released this week. “If you’re looking for a billionaire, I’m not your guy.”

Warnock and Ossoff are both fending off intense attacks as their Republican opponents try to paint the Democratic duo’s policies as too extreme – in a word, “socialist” – for Georgia voters.

Warnock, in particular, is battling attacks from Loeffler that highlight the Atlanta pastor’s past comments criticizing certain law enforcement members and his past involvement with a New York church that hosted Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1995.

Warnock’s and Ossoff’s campaigns have brushed off those and similar attacks as distractions and diversion tactics meant to stir passions in conservative Georgia voters, while the Democratic candidates continue homing in on issues like health insurance, criminal justice reform and the national COVID-19 response.

The TV ads and campaign stops look to ramp up in the coming weeks with control of the Senate hanging in the balance. Wins for both Ossoff and Warnock would likely tip the Senate in Democrats’ favor along with control of the U.S. House and the presidency, clearing the way for President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers to enact their priorities with little resistance for at least the next two years.

Republican leaders and groups are marshalling forces in a push to lock down the Senate and keep the Democrat-controlled House and the incoming Biden administration in check. Speaking after Friday’s rally, Florida’s Scott said he’s confident Republicans will turn out the vote for the Perdue-Loeffler ticket on Jan. 5 despite the Democratic voter surge that flipped Georgia for Biden last week.

“You’ve just got to get your votes out,” Scott said. “We did it in Florida, and I know we’re going to do it in Georgia.”

Aiming to invigorate conservative voter enthusiasm even more, Scott and other Republican leaders have echoed President Donald Trump in questioning the results of last week’s presidential election and calling for investigations into ballots cast in states with tight races like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

State election officials across the country from both political parties including Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, have said they’ve found no evidence so far of ballot-casting fraud as Trump and his allies have alleged since last week.

Even so, Raffensperger has warned people from outside Georgia not to relocate to the state with the sole intent to register and cast ballots in the Jan. 5 runoffs, which would be a felony. His warning came on Friday as Georgia launched a statewide hand recount of the nearly 5 million votes in the presidential election. The state’s 159 county elections boards have through Wednesday to wrap up the recount.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have shown similar confidence as Republicans in their prospects for mustering supporters for another big election turnout on Jan. 5, buoyed again by a massive vote-by-mail effort that drove turnout for the presidential election amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Notably, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams – who has been widely credited with playing a major role in boosting Democratic turnout this election cycle – has stayed in the national media spotlight over the past week as she seeks to drum up donations for Warnock and Ossoff and inspire another round of huge mail-in voting.

“We have seen what’s possible when we work hard and when we work together,” Abrams said in a recent Twitter video. “We know we can win Georgia. Now, let’s get it done.”

Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoffs is Dec. 7.

Loeffler rallies with Rubio, kicks off Senate runoff campaign

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a rally with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at the Cobb County Republican Party headquarters in Marietta on Nov. 11, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida campaigned with Sen. Kelly Loeffler Wednesday at a rally for the freshman senator’s runoff bid, the first of what will likely be many high-profile visits to Georgia ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections.

Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman, is running alongside fellow Republican Sen. David Perdue in a pair of runoffs that are poised to settle the balance of power in the Senate.

Rubio aimed to energize a packed hundreds-strong crowd of supporters Wednesday at the Cobb County Republican Party headquarters in Marietta, where he railed against “radical elements” in the Democratic Party that could hold sway in the Senate if Loeffler and Perdue lose in January.

“This is literally the showdown of all showdowns in terms of politics and what it means,” Rubio said. “This is Georgia’s decision to make, but it’s America that will live with the consequences of that decision.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida energizes supporters during a rally for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler at the Cobb County Republican Party headquarters in Marietta on Nov. 11, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Perdue, a corporate executive from Sea Island, was in Washington, D.C., and did not attend Wednesday’s rally, his office said. His wife Bonnie appeared to speak in his stead.

The runoff races between Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock and between Perdue and Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff have thrust Georgia into the national political spotlight with control of the U.S. Senate potentially hanging in the balance.

Wins for both Ossoff and Warnock in the Jan. 5 runoffs would likely tip the Senate in the Democrats’ favor along with control of the U.S. House and the presidency, clearing the way for President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers to enact their priorities with little resistance for at least the next two years.

Republican and Democratic leaders across the country are poised to pull out all the stops in Georgia with huge campaign donations and big-name backers like Rubio expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Ossoff, an investigative journalist, kicked off his runoff campaign on Tuesday by rallying with several Georgia Democratic leaders and health-care advocates in support of the Affordable Care Act, which faces a legal challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has put out a pair of new campaign ads that highlight his humble Savannah upbringing and urge voters to cut through attack ads from Loeffler that are set to roll out in the coming weeks.

Warnock and Ossoff are expected to team up frequently for campaign events ahead of Jan. 5, as are the two Republican senators. Already, Perdue and Loeffler jointly pressed this week for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to resign following the Nov. 3 presidential election, as state election officials continue brushing aside unproven claims of ballot fraud made by President Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered a hand recount of the nearly 5 million ballots cast in Georgia’s presidential election with Biden leading Trump by roughly 14,100 votes. The recount should wrap up by Nov. 20.

Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoffs is Dec. 7.

Georgia to hold hand recount of presidential election results

Secretary of State Brad Raffenserger has ordered a hand recount of Georgia’s presidential election. (Photo by Beau Evans)

In an unprecedented move, Georgia will undertake a hand recount of the nearly 5 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election with roughly 14,000 votes separating President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday.

Several state and local runoff elections including a seat on the Public Service Commission will also be rescheduled from Dec. 1 to Jan. 5 for election workers to better prepare for another wave of voters, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger formally called for the hand recount as part of a regular audit of the election results, which were poised to be done via an electronic sampling of ballots before Raffensperger revised the process under emergency powers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, all 159 county elections boards in Georgia will have until the certification deadline of Nov. 20 to count by hand every in-person, mail-in and provisional ballot cast in last week’s election, Raffensperger said at a news conference Wednesday.

A recount of this magnitude has not been conducted before in Georgia and follows record turnout in the Nov. 3 general election. Raffensperger said the hand count should instill confidence in the final election results amid growing – and unproven – accusations of voter fraud.

“We understand the significance of this for not just Georgia but for every single American,” Raffensperger said. “At the end of the day, when we do a hand count, then we can answer the question of exactly what was the final margin in this race.”

Biden led Trump by 14,108 votes in Georgia as of Wednesday afternoon, drawing intense focus to a state that a Democratic presidential nominee has not won since 1992 and which is set for two runoff elections on Jan. 5 that could decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Democratic leaders in Georgia have dismissed claims of voter fraud and urged Trump to begin a smooth transition of power to Biden, who was declared winner of the election by a host of major news outlets analyzing the vote tallies on Saturday. No outlets have called the race in Georgia so far.

The voting rights group Fair Fight, founded by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, shortly after Raffensperger’s announcement Wednesday said that Trump “cannot overturn the will of Georgia voters.”

“Donald Trump is delaying the inevitable,” the group said on Twitter. “He lost, and he knows it.”

Republican allies of Trump hailed Raffensperger’s decision Wednesday, calling it a good first step in a push to weed out whether any ineligible ballots were cast. The president and his supporters have cried foul on the election results over the past week, alleging voter fraud without hard evidence in close-race states like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who is leading the Trump campaign’s recount activities in Georgia, said in a conference call Wednesday his team is looking at allegations of ballot harvesting and improperly signed ballots, as well as some alleged instances of dead Georgians voting.

“This is a victory for integrity,” Collins said of the recount. “This is a victory for transparency.”

Raffensperger and his staff have not discovered any evidence of substantial ballot-casting fraud yet but have pledged to investigate credible allegations that may arise.

“Anecdotes and stories don’t work,” Raffensperger said Wednesday. “We need something we can actually investigate.”

Ossoff rallies for Affordable Care Act as U.S. Supreme Court hears lawsuit

U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff urges support for the Affordable Care Act at a rally outside the State Capitol in Atlanta on Nov. 10, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Georgia health-care advocates and Democratic leaders including U.S. Senate nominee Jon Ossoff rallied Tuesday to support the Affordable Care Act as the U.S. Supreme Court took up a Republican-backed lawsuit aimed at striking down the law.

The lawsuit, which Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has joined as a plaintiff, seeks to have the 2010 health-care law overturned on grounds it can no longer require people to have insurance through the so-called individual mandate, which Congress watered down in 2017 by repealing a tax tied to coverage.

Ossoff, an investigative journalist, has made backing the law and its protections for persons with pre-existing health conditions a central part of his campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who has several times voted against the law.

Ossoff and Georgia Democrats including Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is competing for the state’s other Senate seat against Sen. Kelly Loeffler, have framed Republicans’ support for the lawsuit as an attempt to strip health care from millions of Georgians in the middle of a viral pandemic.

At a rally outside the Georgia Capitol building in Atlanta Tuesday, Ossoff called Perdue’s stance on the health-care bill “a travesty” and signaled he plans to continue hammering the senator on health-care issues ahead of the closely-watched Jan. 5 runoff.

“This is not a matter of partisan politics,” Ossoff said. “This is a matter of the public interest.”

Perdue, a former corporate executive seeking a second six-year term in the Senate, has previously dismissed claims he does not support insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, arguing he has backed legislation to expand those protections. He argues the law drove up health-care costs and limited insurance options.

On Tuesday, Perdue’s campaign argued Ossoff favors a “socialized health-care plan” that could increase costs and reduce local hospitals’ workforces and facilities.

“Senator Perdue always has and always will support protecting health care for those with pre-existing conditions, period,” said the campaign’s communication’s director, John Burke.

Both Perdue and Loeffler voted against a Democrat-sponsored bill last month that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice from arguing against the health-care law in court.

Carr has echoed other Republican attorneys general and officials in calling the health-care law passed during former President Barack Obama’s administration an “overt form of federal overreach” that should be scrapped.

The law’s supporters argue that while not perfect, it provides essential protections for pre-existing conditions and coverage for services like vaccines that will become crucial in the coming months as COVID-19 vaccines are approved and made widely available.

“Every Georgian, whether they know it or not, benefits from the standards and protections that have been put in place by the Affordable Care Act,” said Laura Colbert, executive director of the nonprofit Georgians for a Healthy Future.

A ruling by the high court may not arrive for several months.

Meanwhile, the Perdue-Ossoff and Loeffler-Warnock runoff races have put Georgia in the national political spotlight with control of the U.S. Senate potentially hanging in the balance. Big campaign donations and high-profile backers from both parties are expected to blanket the state before Jan. 5.

Wins for both Ossoff and Warnock in the runoffs would likely tip the Senate in Democrats’ favor along with control of the U.S. House and the presidency, clearing the way for President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers to enact their priorities with little resistance for at least the next two years.

Ossoff and Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, have sought to fix health care and insurance coverage as the campaign’s top issues, while Perdue and Loeffler have focused on casting their Democratic opponents’ priorities and backgrounds as too extreme for Georgia.

Eager to paint their opponents as too cozy with socialism, Perdue has noted a Hong Kong media company’s past purchase of one of Ossoff’s films and Loeffler on Tuesday highlighted a New York church where Warnock worked as a junior staff member that hosted Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1995.

Perdue and Loeffler stirred controversy this week in pressing for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to resign following the Nov. 3 presidential election as state election officials continue brushing aside unproven claims of ballot fraud made by President Donald Trump.

Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoff is Dec. 7.

Perdue, Loeffler call for Georgia’s secretary of state to resign

U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler (left) and David Perdue (right), both Republicans from Georgia, are campaigning to hold their seats in runoff elections on Jan. 5, 2021. (Photos by Beau Evans)

U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans in tight runoff races to hold their seats, called on Georgia’s Republican secretary of state Monday to resign as state election officials continued brushing aside unproven claims of ballot fraud.

The joint call from Perdue and Loeffler came shortly after the top elections manager in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office dismissed a string of theories on ballot harvesting and computer glitches that President Donald Trump’s allies floated recently to sow doubt in Georgia’s election results.

As of Monday afternoon, President-elect Joe Biden maintained a lead over Trump in Georgia of about 10,600 votes, leaving the state on the cusp of flipping to a Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1992. State officials have until Nov. 20 to certify the election results and a recount is also likely.

In a joint statement, Perdue and Loeffler called Raffensperger’s management of the election “an embarrassment” that lacked “transparency and uniformity in the counting process.” Without citing any evidence of fraud or improper ballot counting, the two senators pressed Raffensperger to resign.

“We believe when there are failures, they need to be called out – even when it’s in your own party,” Perdue and Loeffler’s statement read. “There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems.”

In a long response statement, Raffensperger said he understood “emotions are running high” but that Georgia’s elections had run smoothly despite slow results and issues in some counties. He called the senators’ claims on transparency “laughable” and said if any illegal votes were found in the coming weeks, they would not likely change the election results.

“As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate,” Raffensperger said. “I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue state focusing on that.”

Earlier on Monday, the state’s election system manager, Gabriel Sterling, during a news conference debunked claims of ballot harvesting or ballot tampering with specific explanations for how some temporary counting discrepancies resulted from human error, not software glitches or partisan sabotage.

Sterling, who is a Republican, has held multiple news conferences – often twice a day – since the Nov. 3 election to update the public on the ballot-counting process in Georgia and to outline details of issues seen in some counties, which he said were expected in a high-turnout election and quickly fixed.

“The facts are the facts, regardless of outcomes,” Sterling said Monday. “In Georgia, we had an actual, accurate outcome.”

Sterling acknowledged that investigators may uncover double-votes or other illegally cast ballots in the coming days as an audit of the results kicks off Wednesday – though it’s unlikely investigators would turn up enough improper ballots for Trump to bridge Biden’s lead, he said.

“Our job is to get it right for the voters and the people of Georgia, and for the people of the United States, to make sure the outcomes of this election are correct and trustworthy,” Sterling said. “And at the end of the day, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on, no matter which candidate you supported, you can have trust and believe in the outcome of these things.”

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, also said Monday morning on CNN that Georgia officials “have not had any sort of credible incidents raised to our level yet” regarding voter fraud or improper ballot counting.

The runoff races between Perdue and Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, and between Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, have already thrust Georgia into the national political spotlight with control of the U.S. Senate potentially hanging in the balance.

Wins for both Ossoff and Warnock in the Jan. 5 runoffs would likely tip the Senate in Democrats’ favor along with control of the U.S. House and the presidency, clearing the way for Biden and Democratic lawmakers to enact their priorities with little resistance for at least the next two years.

Republican and Democratic leaders across the country are poised to pull out all the stops in Georgia with huge campaign donations and high-profile backers expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

While Democrats aim to build on momentum that appears to have swung the state for Biden, many Republican leaders have homed in on the integrity of the election to cast doubt on the overall ballot-counting process in Georgia and other states with tight races.

Notably, outgoing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has signed on to lead the Trump campaign’s push for a recount, which can legally be requested since the vote margin between Trump and Biden in Georgia stands at less than 0.5%.

Collins, who finished third and out of the running for the January runoff against Loeffler, said in a statement Monday he feels “confident” his team will discover ballot harvesting and other issues in Georgia’s election but did not provide any evidence for why he feels that way.

Trump also took to Twitter shortly after Perdue and Loeffler’s joint statement Monday afternoon to claim he will win Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, despite the fact he is losing in the state.