The US state of Georgia has begun recounting by hand every ballot cast by its voters in the presidential election as part of an audit of initial results that show Joe Biden narrowly leading Donald Trump.
Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, announced the audit on Wednesday, a day after the Trump campaign called for all 5m ballots cast in the state to be rechecked by hand.
Mr Raffensperger has come under intense pressure from his party as Mr Trump has refused to accept the results of the election and instead challenged Mr Biden’s victory.
Under Georgia law, the secretary must choose one election race in the state on which to perform an audit. Mr Raffensperger denied that he had selected the presidential race in response to the Trump campaign’s request.
“With the national significance of this race, and the closeness of the race, we have to run a statewide audit, this is the race that makes the most sense,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Mr Biden holds a lead of just over 14,000 votes in Georgia. It is unclear whether a hand recount would significantly alter that margin. His electoral college victory would still be assured even if he were to lose the state’s 16 electoral votes.
The Trump campaign welcomed the audit, telling reporters on Wednesday that it was merely the “first step” towards their goal of undoing Mr Biden’s win.
“Everyone is looking for one single action to be the silver bullet to overturn the entire election. It’s going to be a process,” said Tim Murtagh, the Trump campaign’s communications director.
“President-elect Biden’s margin is now at more than 14,000 votes,” said Paige Hill, a Biden campaign spokesperson. “At the end of this hand recount process, we are confident the election day result will be reaffirmed: Georgians have selected Joe Biden as their next commander-in-chief”.
Georgia is required to certify its results by November 20, and Mr Raffensperger admitted on Wednesday that completing the hand recount by then would be a “heavy lift”.
“We’ll be counting every single piece of paper,” he said, noting that the new total after the audit would be the official result.
The losing candidate could still request a formal recount, a separate process under Georgia law, if the margin of victory is less than 1 per cent. That recount would be conducted by machine, Mr Raffensperger said.
The state’s two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, publicly called for Mr Raffensperger’s resignation on Monday, accusing him of mismanaging the election. A Democratic presidential candidate has not won in Georgia since 1992.
Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue are both headed to a run-off in January against their respective Democratic challengers in races that will determine which party will control the Senate under a Biden administration.
Many top Republican politicians and key Trump administration officials have refused so far to acknowledge that Mr Trump lost the election. The Trump family has warned Republicans that their base will not forget it if they turn against the president.
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