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Georgia counties prepare for hand tally of presidential race

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia election officials have announced an audit of presidential election results that will trigger a full hand recount. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA (AP) — As Georgia counties prepare for a hand tally of the presidential race, the state’s top elections official plans to quarantine after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said Thursday.

An audit of one race is required before election results are certified by the state, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that he had selected the presidential race. Because of the tight margin in that race — Democrat Joe Biden leads Republican President Trump by about 14,000 votes — Raffensperger said the audit would result in a full hand recount.

“The point of the audit is to show the machines counted the ballots fairly,” said Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state’s new voting system for the secretary of state’s office.

Raffensperger’s wife, Tricia, tested positive on Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told The Associated Press. Brad Raffensperger was en route to get tested and plans to self-quarantine as a precaution even if his test is negative, Fuchs said.

Chris Harvey, elections director for the secretary of state’s office, told county election officials during a training call Thursday that they must begin the hand tally by 9 a.m. Friday and complete it by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The state certification deadline is Nov. 20.

For the audit, county election staffers will work with the paper ballots in batches, dividing them into piles for each candidate. Then they will count each pile by hand, Fuchs said. Sterling had said Wednesday that the ballots would be counted by machine.

The results of the new count from the audit is what will be certified, Sterling said.

There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, but state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. Biden’s lead stood at 0.28 percentage points as of Thursday afternoon.

Once the results from the audit are certified, the losing campaign can request that recount, which will be done using scanners that read and tally the votes, Raffensperger said.