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Another county uncovers more than 2,700 votes during Georgia election audit

Workers around the state are aiming to wrap up their hand counts by midnight tomorrow night.

ATLANTA — Below is an archive of our blog from Nov. 17.

A historic audit of Georgia’s election continues to make progress toward a deadline of tomorrow at midnight. 

Counties such as Fulton and DeKalb have said they've completed the process, while Gwinnett and some others appear to be near the finish line.

The most significant change discovered in across the state so far came last night in Floyd County, where officials said they discovered about 2,600 votes that had not previously been counted. That batch gave President Trump a net gain of about 800.

The audit is a hand retally of the state’s nearly 5 million ballots cast in the general election on Nov. 3. It’s the largest audit in the country’s history to be conducted by hand. 

This is all in an effort to validate the close results in the presidential race. In Georgia, President-elect Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by less than 0.5%.

NBC projected Friday that Biden is the apparent winner in Georgia. The Associated Press has not called the race yet.

Some counties are providing live video streams of their retally process.

The audit is not a recount. A recount can happen after the state certifies their election results and must be requested by the candidate. That’s why it’s being called a retally or hand count.

Here is more information on the process.

Monday's blog: 2,600 uncounted ballots discovered in Floyd County during election audit

Sunday's blog: DeKalb joins Fulton in completing retally in election audit

Throughout the day, we’ll update this blog with new information from the counties as they continue the tally along with other election updates.

9:30 p.m. | Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins issued a statement about Georgia's election audit, saying the retally is critical to give Georgians confidence that all votes have been counted. He added that the votes discovered in Fayette shows why the retally is important. 

"With the fate of the Senate hinging on the January run-offs, I can’t think of a more critical time to make sure we get this right," he said.

4:35 p.m. | Gabriel Sterling said in Walton County, there may be a memory card with about 224 votes. They are trying to figure out the discrepancy. 

4:33 p.m. | Gabriel Sterling addresses the consent decree issue again: On that, he says President Trump is "just wrong - flat out, 100 percent, four square wrong."

"All we did was send out an official election bulleting telling people, hey follow our rules... it's just wrong, it's confusing to people, people wanna believe it because the president's saying it, but this consent decree literally didn't do anything and change the law in how we do signature match."

4:22 p.m. | About 81 counties still working to finish their hand counting to complete the audit.

4:17 p.m. | Gabriel Sterling in the Secretary of State's Office describes what happened in Fayette County: There were votes that had been scanned and were on a memory card, but the issue was that they hadn't been uploaded.

He said it was more easily discoverable than the issue in Floyd County, because they were able to see that the number of people who were checked in on the early voting file in Fayette was higher than the number of people there was in the county's reported vote total.

In Floyd County, he explained, there was literally a box of ballots sitting off to the side no one had noticed.

4:13 p.m. | Here's the breakdown of that Fayette County information:

4:10: p.m. | Gabriel Sterling just said through the audit they found about 2,755 votes on a memory card in Fayette County, netting President Trump about 400.

3:50 p.m. | Here's an update from Cobb County:

3:10 p.m. | We're expecting a second press conference today with the Secretary of State's Office to happen at 4 p.m.

2:57 p.m. | More from the Secretary of State's Office on the audit performed on voting machines:

"Pro V&V conducted an audit of a random sample of Dominion Voting Systems voting machines throughout the state using forensic techniques, including equipment from Cobb, Douglas, Floyd, Morgan, Paulding, and Spalding Counties. ICP (precinct ballot scanners), ICX (ballot marking devices), and ICC (central absentee ballot scanners) components were all subject to the audit. In conducting the audit, Pro V&V extracted the software or firmware from the components to check that the only software or firmware on the components was certified for use by the Secretary of State’s office. The testing was conducted on a Pro V&V laptop independent of the system.

According to the Pro V&V audit, all of the software and firmware on the sampled machines was verified to be the software and firmware certified for use by the Office of the Secretary of State. Coupled with the risk-limiting audit of all paper ballots relying solely on the printed text of the ballots, these steps confirm the assessment of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that there are no signs of cyber attacks or election hacking."

2:55 p.m. | Secretary of State Raffensperger announced this afternoon he had ordered a separate audit of voting machines, to ensure they were not hacked or tampered with, and reports there was "no evidence of the machines being tampered."

The secretary said the audit was performed by Huntsville, Ala.-based Pro V&V, "a U.S. Election Assistance Commission certified testing laboratory."

2:00 p.m. | Among the other misconceptions that have been clarified, here's another: No absentee ballots were sent to Georgia voters without them being requested.

12:30 p.m. | You can add Clayton County to the list of counties that have completed their hand count audit, by the way.

12:25 p.m. | Another important point addressed in the Secretary of State's Office press conference (there were a lot): On the issue of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham allegedly pressuring Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger to find ways to invalidate ballots, Gabriel Sterling said there were questions from Graham he and Sec. Raffensperger perceived as "going down the path of potentially saying entire counties need to be redone," if certain issues were uncovered.

He explained "there's no path for this office to do that," adding it would need to be ordered by a court.

"It's not something we think would be a good or rational way to do election administration, after the fact. These counties... have done their jobs appropriately," Sterling said.

His full comments on that matter are available here.

12:15 p.m. | An important thing that Gabriel Sterling in the Secretary of State's Office addressed at multiple moments in that press conference are points the president has raised as an issue: A consent decree the state reached with Democratic groups earlier this year and how it affected signature matching.

Sterling rejected the argument that the decree weakened signature matching in any way, outlining how it is a two step process - one check done when an absentee ballot is requested, and another done when it's received by counties. 

Signature matching can't be done again as part of the audit because when county workers first count the ballot, they have to open it up from an envelope. The signature is on the envelope. Once the ballot and envelope are separated, there's no way to put them back together - which is mandated by Georgia law so to preserve privacy.

It's simply not possible to go back through the signature matching process again.

11:40 a.m. | Correction to below: A follow-up questions seemed to clear up the process some. The state hasn't certified full results yet, but counties have a process by which they can amend their certifications before the state certifies the results in full. The state will certify on Friday.

So it seems like the state will have a final count from the audit, but that's not what gets certified. Their legal requirement is simply to report the total of what counties report to them. So the burden is on counties to fix their results if the retally turns up anything of question.

(Yes, this can all be very confusing.)

11:35 a.m. | Sterling goes into some of the weeds of Georgia law, and it appears the count that is obtained through the audit will not be what is certified as official results. He made it sound like there is no provision in law to draw out the audit results and replace the first results with them.

So it would come down to an official recount, it seems, to establish new results (this would appear to be most relevant to the 2,600 Floyd County ballots that were not included in initial results but found via the hand-done retallying.)

11:20 a.m. | Sterling says they will find instances of illegal voting, and in particular are already investigating instances of double voting - some of which he said might have been data entry errors - and whether there were felons who haven't had their voting rights restored but who nonetheless voted. However he stressed there is "nothing that indicates there is such a high percentage that it would change the outcome of the vote."

11:15 a.m. | Sterling says the Secretary of State's Office has opened up two investigations into Fulton County's handling of the election, one involving how things progressed after the reported leak at State Farm Arena on election night, and another into how they dealt with election observers and monitors.

11:10 a.m. | After some technical difficulties, Gabriel Sterling from the Secretary of State's Office has begun the public update.

10:25 a.m. | Regarding the Floyd County issue first reported last night - in which 2,600 uncounted ballots were discovered - Dr. Melanie Conrad on the Floyd County Board of Elections sends along this small update:

"We are still investigating the situation. We did have an issue with a scanner at the polling location where the undercount occurred. That will be the starting point for our investigation. As of now we believe it was a technical issue caused by human error."

9:55 a.m. | We're hearing there's going to be a press conference by the Secretary of State's Office at 11 a.m.

9:15 a.m. | Part of what makes the rejection rates provided by the Secretary of State so interesting is that the idea they were abnormally lower than in years past was central to complaints that have been made by Georgia Republicans. A letter issued last week said the rejection rate had dropped from 3.5% in 2018 to 0.3% in 2020 - but here, the Secretary of State is saying it's been generally consistent in a very low range of 0.15%-0.3% over the last few election cycles.

The idea that the Secretary of State's Office made it harder to reject ballots via signature matching is also at the heart of a lawsuit filed to stop Georgia from certifying its results that has been touted by President Trump.

"Takeaway is that rejection rate from 2018 to 2020 is exact same even after ballots with signature issued were cured. So, the idea that some settlement agreement that we entered into changed how counties were doing this is basically nonsense," the Secretary of State wrote on Facebook, referring to that suit.

9:00 a.m. | Here's some interesting info on ballot rejection rates from the Secretary of State. This dovetails with the signature matching process that has been centered by the president and his surrogates - the chief cause for ballots being rejected (other than for arriving late) is when there's an issue with the signature on the envelope a person has sent it in not matching the signature on file with their voter registration.

Sec. Brad Raffensperger writes on Facebook:

2016: 580 ballots rejected for “missing or inaccurate oath information” out of 246,621 total absentee by mail ballots. Rejection rate of 0.24%

2018: 454 rejections for that reason out of 284,393 total absentee by mail ballots. Rejection rate of 0.15%

2020 Primary: 3266 rejections for missing or invalid signatures out of 1,151,371 absentee by mail ballots cast. Rejection rate of 0.28%

2020 General: 2011 rejections for missing or invalid signatures out of 1,322,529 absentee by mail ballots cast. Rejection rate of 0.15%. The number of rejections probably went down from the primary because both parties had teams of people finding people who needed to cure their absentee ballots in the general but not the primary.

So, the number of absentee ballot rejections for signature issues increased about 350% from 2018, which is basically the exact same amount that the total number of absentee ballots increased from 2018.

When the secretary refers to "finding people who needed to cure their absentee ballots" that refers to the "curing" process, by which people whose ballots were rejected for these signature issues were able to resolve it with their county elections office and have their vote counted.

8:10 a.m. | At 11 a.m. this morning Jon Ossoff's campaign says it will hold a press conference to address Sen. David Perdue's decision to decline to participate in an Atlanta Press Club debate ahead of the Senate runoff election in January.

7:50 a.m. | 11Alive's Joe Ripley reports that Gwinnett County isn't sure if its retally will be finished today, but "confident" workers will meet the Wednesday midnight deadline.

(As the Secretary of State's Office explained last week, that's Wednesday going into Thursday.)