National News

Georgia governor's race still uncertain as judges weigh legal challenges

Posted November 14, 2018 4:03 p.m. EST

ATLANTA -- The fate of the Georgia race for governor remained uncertain Wednesday as Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp clashed bitterly over pending lawsuits that seek to count more ballots that were rejected by local officials.

With the latest tally showing Abrams' deficit shrinking slightly, her campaign raced to hold a news conference at the Georgia statehouse to scast suspicion on Kemp's claims that his victory is inevitable. Abrams top aide, Lauren Groh-Wargo, called him the "secretary of suppression."

The Republican, meanwhile, countered through a spokesman that Abrams is peddling fake data and filing frivolous litigation to "undermine democracy and attempt to steal this election to be Georgia's next governor."

The biting feud erupted as federal judges weighed lawsuits that could trigger new counts of a small number of ballots.

The latest tally showed Abrams needs to net more than 17,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff in the race against Kemp and extend her quest to become the nation's first black female governor. Kemp says she has no mathematical chance to gain that much ground with so few ballots outstanding.

The tight race for the 7th Congressional District could also hang in the balance. Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux trails Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall by about 500 votes, but that margin could narrow further because hundreds of ballots from Gwinnett County are still pending.

Several ongoing federal court cases could trigger the counting of more ballots, even after Tuesday's deadline for counties to certify their votes. The only county that has yet to certify is Gwinnett, which is set to do so on Thursday.

At a cramped statehouse conference room, Groh-Wargo and other top Abrams deputies pointed to piles of paperwork with voter data to highlight the sheer number of provisional ballots cast -- and criticize Kemp for not stepping down as the state's top elections official while he ran for governor.

"In a regular campaign, the Secretary of State's Office would be working with our team. That's why it's so incredible that he didn't resign," Groh-Wargo said of Kemp, who only stepped down two days after the election. "We were raising the alarm bells left and right."

She accused Kemp of using the office as a political arm of the campaign, and said he "mismanaged the election to sway it in his favor."

That drew a sharp rejoinder from Kemp's campaign. It repeatedly criticized Abrams for the spate of litigation and described her refusal to concede as a "disgrace to democracy." And his strategists have dismissed Abrams' claim that there are still roughly 20,000 ballots still pending.

"All 159 counties have already counted and reported their provisional ballots," said Kemp spokesman Cody Hall, who needled Abrams for her absence from the news conference.

"Where is Stacey Abrams?" he asked. "Letting the ink dry on the new 'Stacey for Senate' signs?"

More legal battles

Abrams' hopes rest on a string of federal lawsuits that could trigger the counting of absentee and provisional votes that have previously been rejected. A swirl of orders have already raised the possibility that more of those ballots could soon be tallied.

That includes a ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Monday that ordered election officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots that were cast because voters' registration or identification couldn't be verified at the polls.

Totenberg's order didn't say whether additional provisional ballots should be counted, but she required officials to provide more information about a trove of ballots that were rejected. That case is still pending.

A separate ruling on Tuesday ordered Gwinnett officials to count absentee ballots that contain errors or omissions in birthdates, a court order that could affect roughly 300 ballots that were rejected there. Another cache of as many as 150 absentee ballots with alleged signature matches could also be tallied.

And a third federal judge was considering whether to order all Georgia counties statewide to count absentee ballots that are missing correct birthdate information on the envelope. He also could rule on whether people who tried to vote in a county where they weren't registered will have their votes counted.

No major media outlet has declared a winner in either race, and with a margin this tight they are likely waiting until the state certifies the results. A federal judge said the earliest a certification could take place is 5 p.m. Friday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not call election contests.

---

Did your vote count? Hotline lets Georgia provisional voters find out

Georgia voters who had to cast provisional ballots on Election Day can find out if their votes were counted by calling a new toll-free hotline.

The hotline, required by a federal judge's order, allows voters to call the Georgia Secretary of State's Office with questions about their provisional ballots. Voters will be told whether their ballots were counted, and if not, the reason why.

At least 21,190 voters were issued provisional ballots because their registration information or identification couldn't be verified at the polls, according to the Secretary of State's Office. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg wrote in her ruling Monday that there could be as many as 27,000 provisional ballots.

Provisional ballots were only counted if voters' eligibility could be proven within three days of the election, a deadline that passed Friday.

The hotline number is 1-844-537-5375. Voters can also contact their county election offices to check on the status of their provisional ballots.

-- Mark Niesse

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service