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GA Election Uncertainty Lingers        11/14 06:21

   ATLANTA (AP) -- After two federal court rulings and a flurry of legal 
filings over a 24-hour period, uncertainty still hangs over Georgia's midterm 
elections, including the still undecided race for governor.

   Unofficial results in one of the nation's hottest midterm contests give 
Republican Brian Kemp a slim majority. But Democrat Stacey Abrams maintains 
that enough uncounted absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots remain to force 
a Dec. 4 runoff and keep alive her bid to become the first black woman in 
American history to be elected governor of a state.

   In the week since voters went to the polls, arguments over certain 
provisional and absentee ballots have been presented at a dizzying pace before 
several different judges in federal court.

   Among them was a lawsuit filed Sunday by Abrams' campaign seeking an 
extension by one day of the deadline for county election officials to certify 
their results. As a hearing drew to a close just before the 5 p.m. Tuesday 
deadline, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones said he wouldn't extend the deadline 
because all the counties had likely already certified their results or were 
about to, and there were other protections in place.

   All but 16 of the state's 159 counties had certified their results by 
Tuesday evening, Secretary of State spokeswoman Candice Broce said in an email.

   Jones said he hopes to rule on the other requests from Abrams' campaign by 
noon Wednesday.

   The campaign has asked him to order county election officials to accept any 
absentee ballots on which there was missing or insufficient information as long 
as that doesn't "substantially obstruct" officials from verifying the absentee 
voter's identity. It also asked him to order county election officials to 
accept information that's submitted to fix issues with provisional ballots, and 
to count those votes until 5 p.m. Wednesday. And it asked that provisional 
ballots cast by a voter registered in the wrong county be counted as if the 
voter had shown up at the wrong precinct.

   Lawyers for state and county election officials argued that the Abrams 
campaign was trying to use an 11th hour lawsuit to rewrite the state's election 
laws. County election officials have been properly counting ballots and have 
been able to complete their duties in the time allowed by state law, they 
argued.

   In a separate case, U.S. District Judge Leigh May on Tuesday ordered 
Gwinnett County election officials not to reject absentee ballots just because 
the voter's birth year is missing or wrong and to count any that were cast in 
the Nov. 6 election. She also ordered the county to delay certification of its 
election results until those ballots have been counted.

   Republican Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Robyn Crittenden last week to replace 
Kemp, who resigned as secretary of state after declaring victory in the 
governor's race. Crittenden had issued guidance to county election officials on 
the absentee ballot issue Monday.

   Jones said he will consider whether he should effectively extend May's order 
to Georgia's other 158 counties. He said that under Crittenden's guidance, 
counties don't have to reject absentee ballots that are missing a year of birth 
if there's enough other information to verify the voter but her guidance fails 
to say they shouldn't reject them. He said that could cause absentee voters to 
be treated differently, depending on where they live.

   U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg late Monday ordered state officials not to 
do their final certification of election results before 5 p.m. Friday. State 
law sets a Nov. 20 deadline.

   State elections director Chris Harvey testified last week that the state had 
planned to certify the election results Wednesday, a day after the deadline for 
counties to certify their results. He said that would allow preparations to 
begin for any runoff contests, including those already projected in the races 
for secretary of state and a Public Service Commission seat.

   Totenberg also ordered the secretary of state's office to establish and 
publicize a hotline or website where voters can check whether their provisional 
ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. She also ordered the 
secretary of state's office to review or have county election authorities 
review the eligibility of voters who had to cast provisional ballots because of 
registration issues.

   Meanwhile, protesters, including a state senator, were arrested Tuesday 
during a demonstration at the Georgia Capitol calling for uncounted ballots to 
be tallied.

   "I'm being arrested because I refused to leave the floor of this building 
where I'm a state senator," Sen. Nikema Williams said as she was escorted from 
the building. "I wasn't yelling. I wasn't chanting. I was standing peacefully 
beside constituents I represent."

   The Georgia Department of Public Safety said a total of 15 people were 
arrested on charges of disrupting orderly conduct of official business and were 
taken to the Fulton County jail.

   After being released from the jail later Tuesday, Williams said she was 
targeted as a black woman. The Abrams campaign called for charges against 
Williams to be dropped.

   The Georgia Constitution states that legislators "shall be free from arrest 
during sessions of the General Assembly ... except for treason, felony, or 
breach of the peace."

   Unofficial returns show Kemp with a lead just shy of 60,000 votes out of 
more than 3.9 million cast. Abrams would need a net gain of about 21,000 votes 
to force a runoff.

   The Associated Press has not called the race.

   Kemp's campaign has repeatedly called on Abrams to concede, calling her 
campaign's lawsuit "a disgrace to democracy" that ignores mathematical 
realities.

   The Georgia Republican Party which on Tuesday joined the secretary of 
state's office in defending against the lawsuit, said in an emailed statement 
that Democrats were trying to "sue their way to a win" after losing at the 
ballot box.

   Abrams' campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, told reporters after the 
hearing that, "Our quest for basic fairness continues and that is we want every 
single vote to be counted here in Georgia."

   She accused Kemp, as the state's top elections official, of running a 
"chaotic" election that was characterized in long lines and an unusually high 
number of voters having to cast provisional ballots.


(KA)

 
 
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