ATLANTA (NYTIMES) – In a nail-biting scenario whose resolution could help determine the winner of a tumultuous, fraught presidential race, state election officials in Georgia continued Wednesday (Nov 4) to count more than 200,000 outstanding ballots.
As of Wednesday afternoon, about 85,000 votes separated the presidential candidates in Georgia, with President Donald Trump leading his Democratic rival Joe Biden with 50.3 per cent of the vote, or 2.39 million votes.
Beyond the fate of the state’s 16 electoral votes, the uncounted ballots also kept some down-ticket races unresolved, leaving open the possibility that Democrats’ big dreams of transforming Georgia may founder this week in the face of the enduring popularity of the Republican Party in the South.
At the same time, the closely contested presidential race underscored the fact that this Deep South state, once a reliable Republican stronghold, has become a legitimate battleground.
The fact that so many ballots remained uncounted came as little surprise. Voters were allowed to deposit absentee ballots in county drop boxes until 7pm Tuesday. The process of counting them is labour-intensive, involving manually removing ballots from envelopes and, in some cases, subjecting them to human review.
But there were also unwelcome surprises, most notably a pipe that burst Tuesday morning in State Farm Arena, the stadium where the Atlanta Hawks play basketball and where Fulton County was tabulating votes. The plumbing failure delayed the counting of an estimated 50,000 ballots.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger said that the largest number of outstanding ballots, more than 70,000, was from Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta and is a reliable Democratic stronghold.
About 50,000 ballots were from DeKalb County, a Democratic-leaning area that also includes part of Atlanta.
Roughly 7,000 ballots were from Forsyth County, which voted heavily for Mr Trump in 2016.
Mr Raffensperger, a Republican and supporter of Mr Trump, said he would pressure county officials in the state to complete its tally on Wednesday. But if a full vote count could not be finished, he added, he hoped that the number of uncounted ballots would be significantly reduced by the end of the day.
“If we don’t get there, but we get the number so small that then there’s no question of who actually the winner is, I think that will be really helpful, really remove a lot of those questions that people might have,” Mr Raffensperger said.
The uncounted votes Wednesday also clouded the fate of a marquee US Senate race between the incumbent, Mr David Perdue, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Mr Jon Ossoff.
As of early Wednesday, Mr Perdue led by about 155,000 votes. But with a Libertarian candidate pulling more than 2 per cent of the vote, the possibility of a January runoff between the two leading candidates remained possible.
The state’s second high-profile Senate race is certainly headed to a runoff, with Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, and the Reverand Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, emerging as the two top performers in a crowded race Tuesday night.
Associate Professor Andra Gillespie from Emory University said that these short-term uncertainties could not obscure the new, emerging reality that Georgia was now a state where tough and bruising electoral battles were likely to be the new norm.
“I think regardless of who wins the presidential election and who ultimately wins the Senate races, it’s clear that Georgia is electorally competitive,”Assoc Prof Gillespie said. “We are entering an era of Georgia politics where we’re probably going to see more races that are going to be decided by small margins – and an era where we are going to see Democrats and Republicans alternate.”
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