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Biden declared winner of Georgia after election recount confirms lead over Trump

Click to play video 'U.S. election: Georgia election official says state aiming to finish ballot audit by Wednesday at midnight' U.S. election: Georgia election official says state aiming to finish ballot audit by Wednesday at midnight
U.S. election: Georgia election official says state aiming to finish ballot audit by Wednesday at midnight

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden was declared the winner of Georgia Thursday after a statewide manual recount confirmed his narrow lead over President Donald Trump in the presidential race.

Georgia was the final state to be called by the Associated Press as it awaited the results of the audit, which was ordered by the state’s top election official to assure the integrity of the initial election results.

Biden is the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the traditionally Republican stronghold since Bill Clinton in 1992. Georgia is also now the fifth state to be flipped from Trump’s electoral wins in 2016.

Read more: Trump’s efforts to challenge election flounder as Georgia recount confirms Biden win

With Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, Biden is now projected to have won the election with 306 votes compared to Trump’s 232, well above the 270 votes needed to secure a victory in the Electoral College.

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The highly anticipated recount report was released Thursday evening amid a contentious battle over the results of the election, which Biden was already projected to have won nearly two weeks ago.

Biden’s lead over Trump in the traditionally Republican-leaning state was roughly 13,000 votes before Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered the audit of all five million ballots cast for president.

The final results now show that lead largely unchanged, with Trump improving his vote total by just under one per cent.

Click to play video 'U.S. election: Uncounted ballots in Georgia’s Floyd County ‘unfortunate’ but won’t result in ‘substantive change,’ says state official' U.S. election: Uncounted ballots in Georgia’s Floyd County ‘unfortunate’ but won’t result in ‘substantive change,’ says state official
U.S. election: Uncounted ballots in Georgia’s Floyd County ‘unfortunate’ but won’t result in ‘substantive change,’ says state official – Nov 16, 2020

“Georgia’s historic first statewide audit reaffirmed that the state’s new secure paper ballot voting system accurately counted and reported results,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

No individual county showed a variation in margin larger than 0.73 per cent, and the variation in margin in 103 of the state’s 159 counties was less than 0.05 per cent, a memo released with the results says.

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“Every single vote was touched by a human audit team and counted,” said Gabriel Sterling, who oversaw the implementation of the state’s new voting system for the secretary of state’s office. “Obviously, the audit confirms the original result of the election, namely that Joe Biden won the presidential contest in the state of Georgia.”

The AP declared Biden the winner of Georgia shortly after the report was released. While other outlets had already declared Biden the winner of Georgia before the state’s audit was completed, the Associated Press held off, due to a practice of not calling states that are subject to a recount.

Read more: Georgia official says Lindsey Graham suggested he should throw out ballots

Because Biden’s lead over Trump in Georgia is still less than 0.5 per cent of all votes cast, state law says the Trump campaign can still request another recount after the state election results are certified. Raffensperger is expected to formally certify Biden’s victory on Friday, but has until 5 p.m. Saturday to complete the process.

Unlike this manual audit, where paper ballots cast were counted by hand, a recount requested by Trump would see those ballots get electronically scanned.

While not formally a recount under the letter of state law, the hand tally conducted to complete the audit was effectively a recount in practice. No available evidence suggests a machine recount of ballots already reviewed by hand will result in a different outcome.

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The Biden campaign thanked election officials and workers for completing the recount “under unprecedented circumstances,” calling their work “the utmost form of public service.”

“The recount process simply reaffirmed what we already knew: Georgia voters selected Joe Biden to be their next president,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said in an email.

Click to play video 'U.S. election: Georgia official says ‘anecdotes and stories’ not enough to overturn election results' U.S. election: Georgia official says ‘anecdotes and stories’ not enough to overturn election results
U.S. election: Georgia official says ‘anecdotes and stories’ not enough to overturn election results – Nov 11, 2020

Trump and his team of lawyers and campaign surrogates have targeted Georgia along with other battleground states that flipped to Biden, pushing baseless allegations of voter fraud and manipulation of vote tabulation software without providing proper evidence.

Trump has repeatedly attacked the recount process and called it “a joke.” He has also made repeated incorrect assertions that Georgia election officials are unable to verify signatures on absentee ballot envelopes. In fact, Georgia requires that they be checked twice before they are counted.

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The campaign continued to push the false claims in its response to the recount results. In a statement, Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis called for an “honest recount, which includes signature matching,” while falsely alleging that the audit counted illegal ballots.

“The State of Georgia has not certified its results, and it should not,” she said. “We intend to pursue all legal options to ensure that only legal ballots are counted.”

The recount wasn’t completely smooth. Votes that hadn’t previously been counted were found in several counties during the audit, which required recertification of the election results in those counties.

Read more: Georgia’s hand count of U.S. election ballots almost complete, officials say

In Floyd County, more than 2,500 ballots were discovered during the audit that hadn’t previously been scanned, and the secretary of state’s office had called for the firing of the county’s chief elections clerk, Robert Brady. The county elections board on Thursday voted to issue a written reprimand to Brady and, because it was his second written reprimand within six months, to fire him in accordance with county policy, board member Melanie Conrad said in an email.

Several other counties found memory cards with votes that hadn’t been uploaded and counted prior to the audit.

Republicans filed multiple lawsuits in Georgia contesting the results and seeking to block their certification, but none have been successful. A federal judge dismissed one such lawsuit on Thursday, while another seeking to toss votes received after Election Day was withdrawn due to a lack of evidence.

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Raffensperger, a Republican, has also come under fire from his own party over the results of the election. Party members have accused the secretary of state of incompetence and have called for his resignation, which Raffensperger has angrily dismissed.

Georgia will continue to be in the spotlight even after the recount confirmed Biden’s win. Both races for the U.S. Senate there are headed to runoffs in early January, with Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue fending off challenges from Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

–With files from the Associated Press