The margin between President Trump and Joe Biden in the Southern battleground state of Georgia continued to narrow as election workers in mostly Democratic-leaning counties continued to tally absentee ballots.
Early Friday morning Eastern time, with more than 4.9 million votes counted, Trump led Biden by 665 votes.
Only 14,097 absentee ballots had remained uncounted as of 10:35 p.m. Eastern, according to Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state. His office's website stopped giving updated numbers soon after, but the Clayton County website continued updating its count.
The remaining outstanding ballots come from a mix of blue and red counties, with some of the biggest hauls coming from predominantly Democratic-leaning suburbs.
“I am prayerful that we can get to a resolution by the end of the day,” Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager for the secretary of state’s office, said Thursday morning at the state Capitol. “But as has been pointed out by everybody, this is going to be an extremely close margin — especially in a presidential election…. It may take a minute.”
Later in the day, Sterling said he was still prayerful. "But if it has to go to tomorrow to make sure that we get it accurately done, then so be it.”
The state’s presidential race, he said, was "more than likely” going to go to a recount, adding that most recounts do not make a difference.
According to Georgia law, a recount can be requested if the margin between the two candidates is 0.5% or less of the total vote.
The recount must be requested in writing by the losing candidate within two business days of county certification. The secretary of state would then direct all counties to perform a recount. There are no set deadlines for completion, but Sterling said it could take up to a week.
On Thursday afternoon, a small huddle of Trump supporters gathered outside State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta to protest the counting of absentee ballots.
“Four more years!” they shouted.
Georgia’s election officials, who are led by Raffensperger, a Republican, insist they are safeguarding the integrity of the process and discounted claims of ballot rigging. After certification, Sterling said, the state would conduct an audit.
"The effort is to make sure that everybody's legal vote is counted properly and that the actual results are reflective of the voters’ intent," Sterling said Thursday afternoon, noting that it was the first time in 20 years the state had used paper ballots. “These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right.
“I think if anyone’s going to try to rig a system, they'd see something less close than this,” he added.
As Trump's lead narrowed, Georgia Republicans have raised a steady barrage of complaints about the ballot tabulation process in several counties.
David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia GOP, said Wednesday on Twitter that Republicans and other public observers were having problems in “being allowed to view tabulation and canvass.”
“In Fulton County, they are operating a forklift between the place the ballot scanners are located and the area our observers have been instructed to stand," he wrote.
By Wednesday evening, the Georgia Republican Party and Donald J. Trump for President had filed a petition in the Superior Court of Chatham County for a judge to require that county’s elections board to “collect, secure, and safely store all absentee ballots” it received after 7 p.m. Tuesday. “The possible counting of absentee ballots arriving after 7:00 p.m. on Election Day frustrates that organizational mission and dilutes lawful vote,” the petition said.
On Thursday, a Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit.
“There is no evidence that the ballots referenced in the petition were received after 7 p.m. on Election Day, thereby making those ballots invalid," Judge James F. Bass Jr. wrote.
Georgia has not supported a Democratic president since Bill Clinton in 1992. But in the last decade, it has gradually shifted more blue as the state's population has surged to 10.6 million from 9.6 million.
In the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney won Georgia by 8 percentage points. In 2016, Trump won by 5 percentage points. Two years later, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate, won the governorship over Democrat Stacey Abrams by just 1.4 percentage points in an election in which Democrats alleged voter suppression.
The secretary of state’s office has said security measures were in place to secure the vote. In Fulton, the state’s most populous county, a state monitor is in the room for all counts; a precertification audit will provide additional confidence that the votes were accurately tallied.
“We have long anticipated — and said publicly — that counting would most likely take place into Wednesday night and perhaps Thursday morning,” Raffensperger said. “We’re on pace to accomplish that responsibly, ensuring that the voice of every eligible voter is heard. It’s important to act quickly, but it’s more important to get it right.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.