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Newton elections staff set for hand recount of 54,000 presidential votes
Georgia Secretary of State authorizes action because of 'national significance' of state's 16 electoral votes
Oxford voting
Voters make their choices at the Oxford City Hall precinct Nov. 3. - photo by Mason Wittner

COVINGTON, Ga. — The county elections board chairman says the office's staff is ready to work through the weekend to do a hand recount of the presidential votes cast in Newton after the Secretary of State ordered the action Wednesday.

And one of Newton County’s two congressmen was among Republicans who had called for the hand recount of every presidential ballot cast in Georgia’s Nov. 3 General Election before Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger authorized it Wednesday, Nov. 11.

County elections board chairman Phil Johnson said the elections staff likely will hear how it will proceed in a conference call Thursday morning, Nov. 12.

He said he anticipated the county elections staff — including five full-time employees and about 15 temporary workers — will begin work either Thursday or Friday and work through the weekend to do the recount.

“It will be a challenge but we’ll get it done,” he said.

The elections office must have the recount done and the board certify it by Nov. 20, Johnson said.

He noted that Raffensperger ordered a runoff election between incumbent Lauren "Bubba" McDonald and Daniel Blackman for a Georgia Public Service Commission seat to be moved from Dec. 1 to the Jan. 5 date already scheduled for two U.S. Senate runoff elections.

“That helps us a great deal,” Johnson said.

He noted staff members also would have been required to prepare and mail about 7,000 absentee ballots while performing the recount if the Dec. 1 election had been required.

The Newton County recount will be done in a “fully transparent” manner — though Johnson was unsure where staff members will work because part of the elections office is used for storage of voting equipment, he said.

“This one will be open to the press, observers, party monitors,” Johnson said.

The Secretary of State’s office Wednesday reported Democratic challenger Joe Biden led Trump by 14,000 votes in Georgia. Newton County certified its General Election totals Monday with Biden receiving 55% of the local vote.

Raffensperger said he was only authorizing the hand recount of the 5 million votes cast for president in Georgia’s Nov. 3 General Election, the New York Times reported.

It will not affect other races, such as those for Georgia’s two Senate seats that advanced to Jan. 5 runoff elections after none of the candidates received more than 50% of the votes cast.

The recount also will use the paper printouts voters created by using Georgia’s new Dominion Voting Systems equipment, the Times reported. 

Raffensperger told reporters in Atlanta he made the decision because of the “national significance” of the outcome in a state with 16 electoral votes and not other outside influences, the newspaper reported.

He announced the hand recount after U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, joined with Republican members and members-elect in the state’s Congressional delegation Tuesday to ask Raffensperger to take the action.

Hice, whose 10th Congressional District includes eastern Newton County, signed on to a letter to Raffensperger from six Republican congressmen and two congressmen-elect calling for the hand-counting as proposed by Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

Collins is leading the Georgia recount effort for President Donald Trump’s campaign. 

The letter stated, “As Members and Members-Elect of the Georgia Congressional Delegation, we are deeply concerned by continued, serious allegations of voting irregularities in our state. 

“The Georgia Republican Party and the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign have received reports of deceased or ineligible voters casting ballots, eligible voters being denied the opportunity to vote, and Republican poll watchers and observers being denied access to activities and meetings critical to ensuring a fair, accurate, and transparent vote tabulation,” the letter read.

“A fair election ensures all legal ballots are counted. We are united in asking you to ensure that such is the case and look forward to your prompt response.

“We need a fully transparent and honest count of LEGAL ballots!”

Hice also wrote on his Twitter account that, “(Georgia Secretary of State) Brad Raffensperger MUST require a hand recount of every ballot in every GA county. There's been far too many reports of irregularities and fraud to trust any other method!

“Georgians will never see the outcome as legitimate without a transparent recount by hand! This isn't over until every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is thrown out!”

Newton County's other congressman, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said the call for the recount was a waste of time and money.

“I am deeply concerned that Secretary of State Raffensperger, responding to immense pressure from Donald Trump and his puppets, has ordered a hand recounting of ballots," Johnson said. "This drastic action comes despite there being no evidence or allegation of irregularities or wrongdoing." 

"This expensive, time consuming and unnecessary hand recount threatens to gum up the election certification process, thereby imperiling the workings of the Electoral College system and forcing a selection of the president by the House of Representatives," Johnson said. 

"I am confident that Trump’s strategy will backfire, and the will of the people expressed in what has been a full and fair election, will be honored.”

The letter followed calls for Raffensperger’s resignation Monday from Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue because of allegations of lack of transparency and mismanagement of the election process this year.  

The Capitol Beat News Service reported the joint call from Perdue and Loeffler came shortly after the top elections manager in Raffensperger’s office dismissed a string of theories on ballot harvesting and computer glitches that Trump’s supporters floated recently to sow doubt in Georgia’s election results.

On Monday, Raffensperger, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and voting implementation manager Gabe Sterling said they have not seen any voting irregularities in Georgia’s election process, the news bureau reported.

State officials have until Nov. 20 to certify the election results, the news bureau reported. The Associated Press reported that all disputes over the counts in each state must be complete by Dec. 8. 

Members of the Electoral College are set to vote on Dec. 14. The U.S. House and Senate then will hold a joint session on Jan. 6, 2021, to count the electoral votes in each state, the AP reported.