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What is the process of adjudication?

The five-syllable word actually describes the simple process of reviewing a ballot that may have been flagged.

ATLANTA — As election workers continue to thoroughly count the remaining ballots in the days following the election, a term being is being discussed that may be unfamiliar to the average voter. It's called adjudication. But what does it mean?

What is adjudication?

The five-syllable word actually describes the simple process of reviewing a ballot that may have been flagged during the process of scanning a ballot.

A ballot could be flagged for a variety of reasons - anything from a bubble being incorrectly filled out, to a bent corner on a ballot, to more than one candidate selected on a ballot.

"When these kinds of garden-variety problems arise, election boards or other bodies have to decide how to treat those ballots," explained Rick Hasen, a CNN contributor and election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.

To borrow an analogy, think of it as going through a TSA security checkpoint (though, you may have to think a bit further back due to being grounded by the pandemic).

Occasionally, a bag will be flagged during the screening process that then requires a TSA agent to check it more thoroughly. Most times, after a check by the agent, the issue can be resolved, and you can be on your way.

In the process of adjudication, a small panel - usually made up of one Democrat, one Republican and one non-partisan election official - will review the ballot in question. That panel will then try to resolve the voter's intent. If it is resolved, it will be added to the vote tally.

Election officials have been stressing that adjudication - like counting every ballot received by election day - is part of the normal election process and is not out of the ordinary. However, the background process is now thrust to the forefront thanks to the razor-thin margins separating the presidential candidates, Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, in multiple battleground states - Georgia included. 

It's been playing out in both Fulton County, where workers had to sort through exponentially more mail-in ballots, and Gwinnett County, which had a software glitch that flagged an unknown number of ballots that had already been reviewed, as needing adjudication again..

Once ballots have been adjudicated, they are added to the unofficial vote tally. From there, the votes are canvassed - or counted - one final time, before they are certified - first by the county, then by the Secretary of State's office.

Contributing: Erin Peterson

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