Bartow County, Georgia election officials are doing a full hand census in the Senate runoff between former Senator David Perdue and Senator-elected Jon Ossoff as part of a voluntary recount to improve electoral confidence. Stephen Fowler / Georgia Public Broadcasting Hide caption

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Stephen Fowler / Georgia Public Broadcasting

Bartow County, Georgia election officials are doing a full hand census in the Senate runoff between former Senator David Perdue and Senator-elected Jon Ossoff as part of a voluntary recount to improve electoral confidence.

Stephen Fowler / Georgia Public Broadcasting

It’s been more than a week since the Georgia Senate runoff elections put the Democrats in control of Congress.

But at the Bartow County, Georgia Senior Citizens’ Center, a dozen teams worked in pairs on Tuesday on a handcount of more than 43,000 votes cast in the January 5 runoff.

The final margin for the races is beyond recount, and voters in this county, an hour northwest of Atlanta, are 75% Republicans – so the result is not close or likely to change.

Why did election workers volunteer for a day at the end of a busy election cycle?

“Many of my constituents, many of my citizens, do not trust the electoral system after November after much misinformation has been released about this particular system,” said election officer Joseph Kirk.

Kirk is a firm believer in transparency and education when it comes to the state’s electoral system – especially after one of the safest elections in the state’s history, which saw record turnouts and few reported problems.

But Georgia was also ground zero for misinformation and attacks on electoral integrity, led by President Trump and a number of top Republicans in Georgia and beyond.

Outgoing Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue urged at the last minute to endorse a challenge to the electoral college. The Georgia Republican Party leader and other lawmakers backed lawsuits to dismiss the state’s president’s findings, and the Republican-led legislature held hearings, encouraged false allegations of electoral fraud, and vowed to crack down on voting rights.

In the November election, President Trump lost Georgia by about 12,000 votes, and the 5 million votes cast were counted three times, including a full hand check required by law.

Kirk believes that audits should be conducted after each election to help the public have confidence that their votes are being counted and to verify that the voting machines are functioning correctly.

“I’ve spent a lot of time since the November election telling people on the phone that I know your vote was counted because we went back and checked that we did,” he said. Why should I want to stop saying that now? “

In this case, the exam looked at the Senate elections between former Republican Senator David Perdue and Democratic elected Senator Jon Ossoff. The ballot papers were checked by two election workers who audibly read the votes on the page and confirmed them with their partner before moving on to the next. From there, the stacks of ballot papers are counted in groups of ten before each batch is entered on a counting sheet and finally compared with the final total numbers.

State Election Board member Matt Mashburn stopped the exam and was happy with the process but frustrated with the Republicans who spent weeks promoting election conspiracies and undermining faith and trust.

“The paradox is that we have these tools that we have never had before so we can have a fair number and be comfortable with the table and the results,” he said. “But the public has the least confidence.”

In deep red Bartow County, many Republicans have raised concerns about the 24-hour Dropboxes, vote counting, and GOP legislature-selected machines. In November, a voter even called the police to investigate a polling station because of a mysterious connection with China. It was just a power cord.

While fewer members of the public were present to watch the exam than the November vote, those who were there said it was still an important step in becoming an informed voter.

It helped Republican observer Judy Kilgore to see things with her own eyes, and to know that some of her friends and neighbors she trusted were doing the census.

“I can hear you in person, I can walk around the tables, I can watch what you are doing,” she said.

Kilgore said the rhetoric surrounding the vote did not add to the turnout, especially for Republican candidates in an increasingly competitive state.

“You want to be able to get people to vote, you want them to have confidence in their vote that it matters,” she said. “If you want your candidate to win … try a little harder, but don’t sit back and be a chair overseer.”

After the 2020 election cycle, it’s not just for skeptical Republicans to watch the electoral sausage being made. Democratic observer Karen Tindall volunteered this year at the age of 71, also because she wanted to help get partisan politics out of the way our votes are counted.

“I think we just have to talk about the process and explain it to people because the elections are safe and fair,” she said. “I think our elected officials need to think more about their oath of office on the constitution and not about their allegiance to their party … I mean, you elected officials who downright lying about how the elections went!”

After about eight hours of work, the final Bartow County’s margin of error was less than a tenth of a percent of the original results – expected, Kirk said, because people are involved in the counting process, which is usually done by machine.

The review will come when Georgian lawmakers resume action, and some Republican lawmakers have promised to crack down on postal voting after weeks of spreading misinformation and false allegations of fraud.

There are signs that change might not be that extreme: Sens. Brandon Beach and Burt Jones were stripped of their committee chairs after supporting lawsuits attempting to overturn Georgia’s election results. A third Senator, Matt Brass, was removed from the prestigious Redistricting Committee in favor of a lesser post.

And while some lawmakers advocated the idea of ​​removing without apology the votes that Republicans have passed (and mostly used by) over the past 15 years, Republican House spokesman David Ralston said he would set up a new bipartisan committee to resolve any To tackle changes.

“Many Georgians are concerned about the integrity of the electoral system: some of these concerns may or may not be valid, and others may be,” he said at a Georgia Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday. “We try to treat the perceived problems very thoughtfully and responsibly.”