What’s happening with recounts and Senate runoffs?

Georgia has finally been called and Joe Biden has become the first Democrat to win the state for nearly three decades.

Victory brought Mr Biden 16 electoral votes, giving him a total of 306.

Ninety-nine per cent of votes have been counted and Mr Biden leads by an insurmountable 14,000 votes. 

While the Trump administration has requested a recount in Georgia, Mr Biden’s margin of victory is very unlikely to be overturned. 

Votes are being counted again in Georgia, but this is not a recount. Instead it is an audit ordered by Republican Secretary of State in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, which are routinely used by states to ensure their counting equipment and procedures work properly. Georgia state law requires an audit be conducted this year, where ballots are counted by hand and compared with machine tallies.

A recount, by contrast, would be conducted using the same scanners that tallied the results already released. This would only be done once all election results are certified by a state, which hasn’t happened yet. 

After the audit, the losing party could request a recount which would be done by machine.

Mr Raffensperger has dismissed claims of election fraud, and cast doubts on the likelihood of the recount swinging the result in Mr Trump’s favour. 

He acknowledged there may have been some illegal voting, but said: “My office is investigating all of it. Does it rise to the numbers or margin necessary to change the outcome to where President Trump is given Georgia’s electoral votes? That is unlikely.”

Counties were asked by the state to have results of their hand tallies ready by Wednesday, 11:59pm. Representatives from both parties are allowed to observe. However, reports suggest that Raffensperger believes the entire recount process may take up to November 20. 

US election results, maps and analysis

On November 6, Raffensperger said: “Right now Georgia remains too close to call. Out of approximately 5 million votes cast we’ll have a margin of a few thousand. With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia.”

Fulton County, the state’s largest and home to Atlanta, appears to have tipped the state for Mr Biden. Mr Trump had been leading on election night but Mr Biden won a large majority in this county through mail in votes, with a margin of over 236,140 votes at the final count. 

The county of Clayton is also responsible for the Democrats’ advantage. While several counties in Georgia sent election workers home overnight, counters in Clayton worked through until the morning. 

The typically blue-leaning county of Gwinnett is expected to remain blue, bolstering Mr Biden’s lead in the state.

Gabriel Sterling, an election official, said it would “take time” to process tens of thousands of remaining ballots. Up to 8,000 overseas ballots could still arrive from Service Members. 

What has Trump claimed?

In the early hours of November 4, Mr Trump prematurely claimed he carried Georgia – and several other states that were too early to call.

“It’s … clear that we have won Georgia. We’re up by 2.5 per cent, or 117,000 (votes) with only seven per cent (of the vote) left” to count, Mr Trump said during an early morning appearance at the White House.

The Trump campaign and the Georgia Republican Party lodged the complaint against the Chatham County Board of Election on November 4 in an attempt to halt voting.

It was alleged by Sean Pumphrey, a Republican poll observer, that he had witnessed 53 late unprocessed absentee ballots being illegally added to a pile of processed absentee ballots due to be tabulated in Chatham County.

Ballots must be received by 7pm on election day to count according to state law.

The Trump campaign argued: “Failing to ensure that absentee ballots received after the deadline are stored in a manner to ensure that such ballots are not inadvertently or intentionally counted, as required under Georgia law, harms the interests of the Trump Campaign and President Trump because it could lead to the dilution of legal votes cast in support of President Trump.” 

Although this was alleged, no evidence was provided by Mr Pumphrey of misconduct.

Mr Pumphrey also admitted he did not know if the unprocessed ballots arrived late after 7pm on Election Day.

Sabrina German, the director of Chatham County’s Voter Registration Office, backed up the board witness’s testimony that said that the votes were received on time.

On Thursday November 5, the case was dismissed by Judge James Base without giving an explanation for his decision in the one hour long hearing. 

Read more: What happens if Donald Trump refuses to concede the 2020 presidency?

What’s going on in Georgia’s Senate race?

Both Senate contests in Georgia will be decided in a special runoff election on January 5, 2021, which will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the upper chamber of congress. 

No candidates for the state’s two seats were able to reach the 50 per cent of vote required to win a place in the Senate. 

The Republicans have won 50 seats and the Democrats have 48 – but they need 51 for a majority. This means if the Democrats win both seats in Georgia in 2021, the Senate will be tied 50-50.

In this circumstance, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, effectively becomes the 101st senator and decides any tie-breaks, which would give the Democrats complete legislative control of congress. But if the Republicans win just one of the seats in Georgia, Joe Biden faces an uphill battle passing his legislative agenda through a Republican chamber.

The first race in Georgia took place between incumbent Republican David Perdue, 70, a businessman first appointed to the Senate in 2014, and Democrat Jon Ossoff, 33, a former investigative journalist.

Senator Perdue has won 48.9 per cent and Mr Ossoff, 47.9 per cent, with 99 per cent of the vote counted.

Georgia’s second Republican Senator, Kelly Loeffler, received 25.9 per cent of the vote and her challenger, Democrat Raphael Warnock, received 32.9 per cent. 

They were the top two finishers in a crowded field that also included Republican Rep. Doug Collins. But no candidate was able to get the 50 per cent threshold needed in order to win outright.

Ms Loeffler, 49, a wealthy businesswoman, was appointed last year to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson.

The candidate recently tweeted in support of Mr Trump’s calls to “count every legal vote”, and pledged to bring in a bill that would “increase penalties for those who attempt to interfere with the will of the American people”.

Mr Warnock, 51, is trying to become Georgia’s first Black US senator. The Reverend is pastor of the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr preached. 

Loeffler and Warnock are head to head in a battle for retired Senator, Johnny Isakson’s seat for the remainder of his term. 

Demographic changes

Georgia is not obvious Democrat country. This is the Deep South. No Democrat has taken the state in a presidential election since Bill Clinton 28 years ago. 

Georgia joined the Confederacy when it split from the Union. It is deeply religious and deeply conservative. For decades it has been redder than red.

But now the cracks are showing. Polls had Mr Biden and Mr Trump neck-and-neck in the state, but Mr Biden has gained advantage. 

Mr Biden has outperformed Mr Trump in Georgia’s urban areas, such as the state capital of Atlanta.

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