President Trump on Friday threw fresh support behind Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, whose too-close-to-call race with Democrat Stacey Abrams has devolved into chaos amid reports of voting irregularities and missing or uncounted ballots.
With election officials still tallying votes, Trump declared Kemp the winner and called for the gubernatorial transition to begin.
“[Kemp] ran a great race in Georgia — he won,” the president wrote on Twitter. “It is time to move on!”
Kemp first declared victory over Abrams on Wednesday night, as reports described lengthy voting lines, missing or inoperable equipment and a dearth of provisional ballots in key precincts during the previous day’s election.
The Associated Press still has not called the race, and Abrams, vowing to fight until every ballot is processed, has not conceded.
Kemp led Abrams by about 63,000 votes as of midday Friday, holding 50.3 percent to Abrams’s 48.7 percent. His lead narrowed as more votes were counted.
If neither candidate wins 50 percent by the time all votes are counted, the race will advance to a runoff.
Kemp’s role as Georgia secretary of state before and during the election has come under scrutiny, as voting rights advocates accuse him of using his position to influence the gubernatorial race. Kemp has denied allegations of impropriety and resigned from his post midday Thursday.
Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo announced a preliminary legal victory, saying that a judge had issued a stay in the certification of results in Dougherty County following a lawsuit by the campaign. The county was hard hit by Hurricane Michael, prompting reports of offices being closed and absentee ballots being sent late.
At a news conference in Atlanta, Groh-Wargo said the campaign’s voter protection hotline had received thousands of calls attesting to voting problems that disproportionately affected people of color, students and registered Democrats.
“Voter suppression looks a lot of different ways,” she said, accusing Kemp of “Old South tactics.”
“Brian Kemp has abused his power and used the secretary of state’s office as a taxpayer-funded arm of his campaign and he is bullying elections officials into hurriedly certifying the election despite all the votes not being counted,” she said.
Kemp on Thursday defended his handling of the election.
“The integrity of the process has been clear in Georgia,” he said after announcing his resignation. “The election integrity is beyond doubt.”
If she ultimately wins, Abrams will become the country’s first female black governor, prevailing in a contest that was characterized by ugly racial overtones. Trump endorsed Kemp’s general-election bid in October, calling Abrams “totally unqualified” and saying she would “destroy a great state.”
Across the state, activists and volunteers gathered for a phone-banking effort to track down people who cast provisional ballots, which required verification before 5 p.m. Friday to be counted. On social media, celebrities such as actor Samuel L. Jackson called on voters with provisional ballots to have them verified.
On a rainy afternoon at the Phillip Rush Center in Atlanta, a bustle of activity underscored the stakes, as volunteers spoke to each other about problems with vote-tallying in various counties.
Nikema Williams, a Democratic state senator and Georgia director for the group Care In Action, helped manage the effort. She expressed concern about counties that had already verified their election results, doubting that all absentee and verified provisional ballots had been counted.
Care in Action and another grass-roots group, ProGeorgia, later said that at least 12 counties had “prematurely certified election results . . . leaving provisional ballots uncounted.”
“The certified numbers [from these counties] are not certifiable,” Williams said. “These counties had no intention of counting everyone’s vote.”
Williams described a variety of problems with Tuesday’s vote, including a small number of provisional ballots distributed to precincts in heavily populated areas and hundreds of voting machines that went unused, forcing voters to wait in long lines.
“We knew the election was coming. It is unacceptable,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Trump seemed to down play concerns about problems with vote-counting in both Georgia and Florida, where the races for Senate and governor are also down to the wire.
“You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia — but the Election was on Tuesday? Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!” he tweeted.
Dunten reported from Atlanta.