Masked workers start presidential hand tally in Georgia

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Ben Gray

Officials sort ballots during an audit at the Floyd County administration building in Rome, Ga. on Friday morning, Nov. 13, 2020. Election officials in Georgias 159 counties are undertaking a hand tally of the presidential race that stems from an audit required by state law. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

ATLANTA – Masked election workers in teams of two began counting ballots Friday in counties across Georgia, a hand tally of the presidential race that stems from an audit required by a new state law.

The law requires that one race be audited to check that new election machines counted the ballots accurately, not because of any suspected problems with the results. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger chose to audit the presidential race and said the tight margin — Democrat Joe Biden leads Republican President Donald Trump by roughly 14,000 votes — meant a full hand count was necessary.

Across the state, audit teams worked with batches of paper ballots, dividing them into piles for each candidate, before counting each pile by hand. Bipartisan panels were on hand to review certain ballots, including those where the auditors couldn't agree on the voter’s intent and those with write-in candidates.

Monitors, appointed by local Democratic and Republican parties, were allowed to circulate among the auditing stations but could not touch ballots or record anything. News media and members of the public were also allowed to observe but were required to do so from a designated area.

In Cobb County, in Atlanta's suburbs, several dozen audit teams sat at tables in a large room at an event center in Marietta as they began counting absentee ballots. One auditor picked up a ballot, read the candidate's name aloud and then passed it to the other auditor, who also said the name before placing the ballot in a tray marked with the candidate's name.

As they worked, the room was quiet aside from the shuffling of papers and auditors saying, “Trump” or “Biden.”

A similar scene occurred across Georgia's 159 counties as the count of nearly 5 million votes got underway.

At the Chatham County board of elections annex, a cavernous warehouse on the south side of Savannah, about 60 auditors wearing face masks listened as a supervisor ran through how the process would work, then watched a training video before beginning the count a little after 10 a.m.