National News

A judge's order scrambles unsettled Georgia race for governor

Posted November 15, 2018 4:41 p.m. EST
Updated November 15, 2018 4:43 p.m. EST

ATLANTA -- Georgia elections officials scrambled Thursday to count a cache of potentially more than 1,000 ballots that were previously rejected as they raced to comply with the latest federal ruling in the too-close-to-call contest for governor.

Democrat Stacey Abrams hailed the judge's order as a major victory to extend her quest to become the nation's first black female governor, but Republican Brian Kemp said it would hardly dent his "insurmountable lead" in the race for Georgia's top job.

The latest tally showed Abrams is roughly 55,000 votes behind Kemp -- and needs to net more than 17,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff. Georgia law requires a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, which is only a possibility because a third-party contender netted about 1 percent.

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 are still pending in Gwinnett County.

A judge on Thursday denied her emergency motion that would have forced Gwinnett to tally absentee ballots that had previously been rejected because of address and signature issues.

That was just one piece in a flurry of litigation at the center of Thursday's wrangling over final vote tallies.

In another ruling, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones issued an order late Wednesday that all counties should count absentee ballots missing birthdate information, a decision that could affect thousands of ballots.

That forced election officials to revise their election results to include absentee ballots that were rejected solely because of a missing or incorrect date of birth. Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden told counties they will have to recertify election results by 5 p.m. Friday if their vote totals change.

It's not clear exactly how many ballots the ruling could affect.

About 700 absentee ballots statewide were rejected because of errors or omissions in their birthdates, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis. Nearly 800 other ballots were rejected because of errors in their birthdate and at least one other problem.

And roughly 2,770 ballots were dismissed due to insufficient oath information, which could include errors in birthdates that were cited in the judicial order. The AJC's analysis is culled from Nov. 8 data before counties certified their votes.

Abrams hailed the court case as one of a string of lawsuits that could give her a narrow chance at forcing a runoff. Her campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said the rulings protect voters "from an acute assault on voting rights engineered" by Kemp when he was secretary of state.

Kemp, meanwhile, has tried to cast himself as the eventual winner. Several of his aides were at the Capitol on Thursday to work on the transition to power. And Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney repeated anew that Abrams has no mathematical chance at winning enough votes to force a runoff.

"The election is over, and Brian Kemp is the governor-elect," he said. "It's time for Abrams to concede and join our efforts to keep Georgia moving in the right direction."

A divide over how many ballots are left outstanding is driving the post-election drama. Kemp's campaign said at most only a few thousand ballots are left, far from enough to force a runoff even if Abrams sweeps them all.

But another federal judge's ruling gave Democrats more hope. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered election officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots, but she didn't say whether those that were rejected should be tallied. That case is still pending.

The Abrams campaign held a news conference Wednesday to highlight the sheer number of provisional ballots that were cast -- and assert that enough ballots for her to close the gap are still outstanding.

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.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service