By Jill Nolin
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has pulled slightly ahead of President Donald Trump in Georgia, giving him a slim edge over the incumbent president in a once reliably red state.
The overnight gain came as a Democratic stronghold south of Atlanta, Clayton County, submitted more election results. Biden has slowly chipped away at Trump’s election night lead as absentee ballots submitted by the Election Day cutoff are processed.
If the trend continues, Georgia will have backed a Democrat for the White House for the first time since 1992 when former President Bill Clinton won here. State election officials are already preparing for a possible recount.
Meanwhile, the slow, painstaking work of processing absentee ballots continues across the state. And pressure has been mounting on Georgia while the country waits to see whether the newly minted battleground state will help settle the close presidential election.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – who is a Republican – long cautioned that the results could take days, but the delay has still fed suspicions about the process as the president and his supporters have watched a 118,000-vote lead in the early hours of Wednesday morning dwindle in Georgia.
About 60 tea party supporters of the president waved banners in front of State Farm Arena early Thursday afternoon, many of them chanting “stop the steal” as election officials counted Fulton County’s remaining ballots inside.
“The effort here is to make sure that everybody’s legal vote is counted properly and that the actual results are reflective of the voter’s intent,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, said during a Capitol press conference Thursday afternoon.
“There are other states that have more votes to count than we do, but it’s a wide margin so nobody cares,” Sterling said. “These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right.”
Local election officials are handling a historic number of paper absentee ballots that require extra handling including a signature match review. About 1.3 million Georgians submitted an absentee ballot, as many people avoided potential exposure to the coronavirus at a polling place.
What is clear, Sterling said, are a few key election deadlines: Voters have until 5 p.m. Friday to correct errors, like a missing signature on an absentee ballot, or to resolve a provisional ballot cast on Tuesday. Overseas military ballots must arrive also by Friday. Local election officials must certify the results by Nov. 13.
The Trump campaign has leaned into the judicial system, but a GOP lawsuit in Chatham County targeting absentee ballots was dismissed Thursday morning. By Thursday night Chatham election officials reported enough absentee ballots counted to close the statewide vote gap to a rounding error.
More lawsuits could be coming in Georgia. Lawyers for the Georgia Republican Party, which filed the Chatham County lawsuit with the Trump campaign, have requested the security footage from the 24-hour security cameras that monitor drop boxes in the state’s six largest counties.
In televised remarks Thursday night, Trump said he “won by a lot” in Georgia. He said that was whittled down to “perhaps even being down a little bit.” He criticized a water pipe break that delayed vote counting at State Farm Arena, and he also said the “election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats” when the top election official is a Republican he endorsed just two years ago.
Shortly after that, Donald Trump Jr. appeared alongside U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who just lost his senatorial bid, and lame-duck Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, who vowed a GOP fight to the finish.
Georgia U.S. Rep. Jody Hice called the state’s handling of the election “embarrassing.”
“Two days are gone and we still don’t know results…are you kidding? Worse yet, partisan ballots keep appearing. A fair vote & Trump wins, end of story! Stop the fraud!” Hice tweeted Thursday night.
Larry Mayl, a computer developer from Brookhaven, addressed the early-arriving protesters at Thursday’s demonstration with a rapid-fire series of suggestions that something fishy is going on with the vote-counting inside the arena where the Atlanta Hawks play.
Mayl said he took a day off from his job to draw attention to the lack of observers he trusts on hand not just in Georgia, but in Michigan and Pennsylvania as well.
Trump supporters showed up at vote counting venues in Arizona and Michigan in recent days to angrily demand election officials stop counting ballots, or in some cases to keep counting. Mayl grinned when asked if he expected the mild-mannered group to make their presence more known to people inside the secured arena.
“I mean, I’m not standing for a steal. Okay?” Mayl said.
Voters can check the status of their absentee ballot by logging into the state’s My Voter Page. Anyone who voted by provisional ballot is encouraged to contact their local election office.
Jill Nolin is a reporter for the Georgia Recorder, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital Star, where this story first appeared. Georgia Recorder Editor John McCosh contributed to this report.