Close elections and absentee ballots could delay some Georgia results

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Results in close races might not be clear on election night in Georgia because of the time it takes to count absentee ballots. - Allison Ross/Tampa Bay Times/TNS

ATLANTA — Results in close races might not be clear on election night because of the time it takes to count absentee ballots, but Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that every vote will be tallied.

A record number of absentee ballots introduces the possibility that candidates leading on election night could fall behind as more votes are tabulated in the following days.

Raffensperger sought to assure voters that vote counting will be thorough, fair and accurate — even if it takes longer than usual.

“I want voters to hear that your vote matters. Every legal vote will be counted, whether you vote by absentee, early or on Election Day,” Raffensperger said during a press conference in the state Capitol.

Most votes will be counted soon after polls close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 after the State Election Board passed a rule this summer allowing absentee ballots to be opened and scanned in advance. But there could still be tens of thousands of late-arriving absentee ballots that won’t be immediately counted on election night.

County election workers will have to work through piles of absentee ballots before they certify results by a Nov. 13 deadline set by state law. Raffensperger then has until Nov. 20 to finalize statewide results.

Georgia will probably report results more quickly than many other states, he said.

“My job in this office is to show all Georgians that there is neither rampant voter theft nor voter suppression,” said Raffensperger, a Republican. “People have concerns, and I get it. We have radical partisans trying to gin up worries and play to people’s fears.”

So far, more than 2.8 million Georgia voters have cast early or absentee ballots, and Raffensperger said total turnout could reach a new high of 5.5 million.

Nearly 1 million absentee ballots have been received so far, leaving an additional 700,000 ballots that voters requested but haven’t yet returned, either in drop boxes or by mail. Absentee ballots must be delivered to county election offices before polls close on Nov. 3 to be counted.

Such high turnout means voters should expect lines during the last week of early voting and on Election Day, Raffensperger said.

Some voters won’t trust the results of the election, according to a poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released Monday. President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to accepting election results if he loses.

About 11% of Georgia voters said they weren’t prepared to accept the outcome of the presidential election as legitimate, according to the AJC poll. Voters across the political spectrum were unwilling to accept the results at roughly even rates, whether they considered themselves liberal or conservative.

“If there’s no winner on election night, I think it’s going to be a mess,” said Clayton Smith, an attorney in Atlanta who participated in the AJC poll. “That will make everyone less likely to accept the results if we get another situation like we had in 2000, with a long recount and mail-in ballots and, God forbid, the Supreme Court involved.”

Monica Foderingham, a librarian from Lithonia, said she’s worried that other voters won’t trust the election results. She’s also concerned about voter intimidation and obstacles that could prevent voters from participating in the election.

“I will be heartbroken if my candidates don’t win, but I have to accept it. I have no choice. That’s the law of the land,” Foderingham said. “Things don’t always go your way.”

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)