Here’s what you need to know. We will update this post as news develops.
Why is there a recount? Will it change the outcome?
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) ordered the recount as a part of the state’s risk-limiting audit process, which is required under a 2019 election overhaul law that Raffensperger supported. Originally, the requirement was to select a random, statistically significant sample of ballots to be reviewed by auditors to make sure ballots were accurately counted. The point is to do a manual check to make sure the ballots were properly scanned by machines.
Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia is quite narrow, at just 0.3 percent. A tight margin means there needs to be a bigger sample size — in this case, more than 1.5 million ballots, according to VotingWorks, a firm that specializes in risk-limiting audits and is working with Georgia officials. Along with state officials, they decided it would be less work to examine every ballot.
This effectively becomes a hand-recount of every single ballot cast in the presidential race. But there’s a separate recount that could be triggered later this month.
That’s because under Georgia law, the losing candidate can request a recount of the results if the margin is less than 0.5 percent of votes cast. But that request can come only after the statewide results are certified, which can come only after this audit is done. If Trump requests a recount of the final results, election officials would then re-scan the hand-verified ballots.
Election experts have said that recounting the presidential votes probably would not change the outcome because recounts do not typically change the results by more than a few hundred votes. Biden holds a margin of about 14,000 over Trump.
What’s the timeline? Who’s paying for it?
This recount officially begins Friday at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Counties have until Wednesday night at midnight to finish it. All counties are required to certify their results by the end of this Friday, and if the recount result is different, the counties need to certify them again.
Gabriel Sterling, who manages Georgia’s voting system, said Thursday that the state had calculated the workload on counties and that state officials are confident the retallying can be completed in time.
Still, it’s a huge task. This is the first statewide recount in Georgia. Hundreds, if not thousands, of county workers and poll workers across Georgia’s 159 counties will be retallying the votes or monitoring the process. Sterling called it the “largest hand retallying by an audit in the history of the United States.”
County officials plan on working through this weekend to finish the recount. This new effort comes as county officials recover from a difficult year of administering an election during a pandemic and the pressure placed on them since Election Day to verify a record-high number of absentee ballots and process ballots amid relentless attacks by the president on the integrity of the vote-counting process.
For now, Georgia taxpayers are bearing all the costs incurred by this process. State officials said they are looking into whether they can use federal election assistance funds to help offset the cost.
What will this recount look like?
A pair of election auditors will review each ballot and determine who received the vote. If they can’t come to a consensus, or if the choice is illegible, a superintendent who supervises the count will make a call. There are strict requirements on what items can be on the auditing table (no food or drinks allowed), what to do when an auditor needs to take a break, how to guard unattended ballots and more.
This will be a hand-review of paper ballots that were printed from electronic voting machines, as well as absentee ballots that arrived by mail.
The recount will be open to the public and streamed live in counties that have the ability to do so.
If you really want to nerd out, check out more information here and watch this video demonstration:
So what comes next?
After counties submit their results by the end of the day on Wednesday, the secretary of state will certify the statewide election results and the slate of presidential electors no later than Nov. 20.
The secretary of state then will submit those results to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who is required by state law to accept them no later than 5 p.m. the next day. The governor’s certification is a pro forma action to accept the secretary of state’s tally, and the governor is not involved in the administering or finalizing of the state’s election results, according to the secretary of state’s office. This timeline can be changed only with an order from a Georgia superior court judge, according to state law.
The Trump campaign can still request a recount within two business days of the state’s certification of results, which would require election officials to re-scan all the presidential ballots once more. While this remains a possibility, “I would hope that common sense will prevail,” Sterling said during a news conference Thursday when asked about a potential recount request later this month, expressing his hope that campaigns do not unnecessarily extend the uncertainty and burden workers.