Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp resigned as his state’s top election officer on Thursday, declaring victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams—before the vote counting was finished, let alone officially certified—and saying as governor-elect that he would now focus on his transition to higher office.
“We won the race,” Kemp said Thursday. “It’s very clear now. We are moving forward with the transition.”
However, Georgia’s Democratic Party and Abrams’ campaign said not so fast. They were hoping that tens of thousands of still-uncounted ballots would push Kemp just below the 50 percent vote count threshold, which would require a runoff election in several weeks.
“We know that victory is within our grasp,” her campaign said. “There are still thousands of ballots yet to be counted; thousands of Georgians whose voices have been shouted down by agents of voter suppression… We believe we are headed for a runoff.”
Despite these competing claims, Abrams faces a steep climb to trigger a runoff election in December. Kemp is leading with 50.3 percent to Abrams’ 48.7 percent out of 3.9 million votes cast. Abrams and a Libertarian candidate, Ted Metz, need an estimated 25,000 votes to trigger a runoff between the top two.
The Democrats believe that there may be 30,000 or more uncounted votes that face a Friday afternoon deadline to be verified or rejected, according to an expert retained by the party. These votes are mostly in provisional ballots (given to voters not on polling place voter lists) and a smaller number of absentee ballots (mailed or dropped off).
“There are probably 30,000 or so uncounted votes,” the adviser said. “But not all provisional ballots will be counted. And not all will go to her, although the vast majority will.”
Whether or not all of Georgia’s county election boards will be able to meet Friday’s close of business deadline is an open question. In some counties in the Atlanta region, there is a backlog of paperwork to be processed inside of election offices and a corresponding push by the Democrats to assist anyone to ensure their vote will be counted—not rejected.
“Tomorrow is kind of the big day,” the campaign adviser said. “But I don’t know that they can get it done. They’re supposed to get it done by the close of business tomorrow. But the volume is huge. This election is a disaster.”
County election officials were not providing lists of voters who cast provisional ballots. As a result, Democrats have been contacting voters who called into the party’s election protection hotline, to see if they need help with presenting additional IDs and arranging rides for those needing to file that information in person at county election boards.
“There’s a field organization going out to get voters who voted by provisionals,” he said. “They are hearing from thousands of people. And they are trying to get those people and whatever issue it is resolved before Friday. That’s the drill.”
Most of these voters were legally registered but went to the wrong precinct—meaning their votes should count.
“Most were in the right county but the wrong precinct. Those are automatically counted. That’s the majority of them,” he said. “The people we are running after is less than half of the provisional ballots. They are people who showed up and their ID was allegedly not sufficient.”
This scramble is the latest chaotic and anti-democratic feature of Georgia’s midterms, an election cycle that has been marred by a long list of bureaucratic barriers and procedural hurdles that’s led election scholars to call Kemp the nation’s leading vote suppressor.
However, the finish line processing of 2018 ballots will not end with voters showing up with additional IDs at county offices by close of business on Friday. Rejected ballots go before canvassing boards, composed of local officials, that will examine signatures on various forms, ballots and envelopes to decide if they will be counted or not.
The canvassing boards have a lot of discretion. While a court ordered the state to notify voters whose absentee ballot envelopes were rejected, there have been reports that some number of these ballots were simply “reclassified” and rejected for other technicalities.
County election officials are slated to certify the 2018 election’s results next week. However, as this timeline unfolds, it is likely that some litigation will be filed to delay or challenge the process—especially as ballot verification practices have varied widely.
This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.