Court orders buoy Abrams as Georgia counties race to certify results |
Politics Election

Court orders buoy Abrams as Georgia counties race to certify results

Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta) is arrested by capitol police during a protest over election ballot counts in the rotunda of the state capitol building Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — The postelection drama in Georgia intensified Tuesday as protests rocked the state Capitol, dozens of counties raced to tally final election ballots, and judges issued court rulings that appeared to buoy Democrat Stacey Abrams’ hopes of forcing a runoff against Republican Brian Kemp.

The clashes played out in the courtroom and under the Gold Dome ahead of a key deadline for counties to certify their election results, with new developments swiftly playing out in courtrooms and county election offices as lawyers tangled over how to count outstanding votes. At one raucous demonstration at the Capitol, a state senator was detained.

Democrats were overjoyed by federal court rulings that require officials to review thousands of provisional ballots, prevent the state from finalizing election results until Friday evening at the soonest, and mandate Gwinnett County officials to accept roughly 400 absentee ballots with errors or omissions in birthdates.

Still, Abrams faces daunting odds and a tightening window to gain ground on Kemp. The day opened with Kemp holding a lead of roughly 58,000 votes over Abrams, though she needs to net a smaller number — roughly 20,000 votes — to land in a Dec. 4 runoff against the Republican.

All but about 25 of Georgia’s 159 counties have certified their results, and most of them have fully reported provisional ballot totals. But several of the densely populated metropolitan Atlanta counties that tilt toward Abrams had not yet certified.

Abrams’ hopes rest on the uncounted trove of absentee ballots and provisional ballots — as well as litigation that could trigger the reassessment of absentee ballots that were rejected by county officials.

The last trickle of ballots could also determine the outcome of the too-close-to-call 7th Congressional District contest between Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who trails by roughly 900 votes.

The provisional ballots were cast by voters whose information could not be immediately verified at polling places, while the absentee ballots had previously been rejected because of missing or erroneous information, even in cases when voters’ identities could be verified through other means.

Kemp’s campaign has long insisted that even if Abrams wins all the outstanding votes still untallied — an unlikely prospect — that it won’t be enough for her to overcome the gap. And his aides have blasted Abrams for “frivolous” lawsuits and her refusal to concede.

“BREAKING: Abrams still can’t force this into a runoff,” one Kemp staffer, Austin Chambers, posted Tuesday on Twitter.

No major media outlet has declared a winner in either race, and with a margin this tight several organizations said they would reassess after counties certify. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not call election contests.

The fiercest legal fight centers on provisional ballots cast by voters whose information often could not be immediately verified at polling places. State records indicate roughly 21,000 of those ballots were cast statewide, but Abrams’ campaign says its survey of data shows about 5,000 more.

“Every hour that goes by, additional votes are processed. Some we know about, some we don’t know about,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager. “Our position is count the provisionals, count the absentees — and don’t rush the process.”

Many of those ballots are likely coming from Democratic-leaning counties. In Gwinnett alone, at least 2,400 provisional ballots will be tallied later Tuesday — including roughly 1,500 cast in the 7th District race.

After taking a conciliatory tone toward the vote-counting effort, Woodall on Monday criticized Bourdeaux and other Democrats for filing litigation “to try to overrule our local, bipartisan officials.” He and other Republicans are nervously watching a pair of court rulings that could tighten their leads by counting more ballots that were previously rejected.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Gwinnett officials must still count absentee ballots that contain errors or omissions in birthdates, a court order that could affect roughly 400 ballots that were rejected there. Gwinnett County officials said Tuesday they need more time to review those ballots before certifying their results.

And a separate ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Monday ordered election officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots that were cast because voters’ registration or identification couldn’t be verified at the polls.

It’s unclear whether additional provisional ballots will be counted, but Totenberg’s order required officials to provide more information about provisional ballots that were cast by voters because their registration couldn’t be verified or because they didn’t appear at their correct precincts.

While Kemp’s campaign stayed relatively quiet, Abrams and her Democratic allies upped the pressure.

The Democratic Party of Georgia and Abrams launched a new 30-second ad Tuesday stressing the need to count all ballots. A slate of potential Democratic presidential candidates rallied behind Abrams in Washington. And a demonstration of support for Abrams under the Gold Dome quickly grew tense.

As a crowd of more than 100 people chanted “count every vote” a few steps from Kemp’s former office, police detained about a dozen demonstrators for violating rules prohibiting yelling while the General Assembly is in session.

Among them was state Sen. Nikema Williams, a first-term Atlanta Democrat who said she was standing with her constituents when officers put plastic restraints on her wrists and led her away.

“I was not yelling. I was not chanting,” she said. “I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I’m being arrested.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.