Gwinnett County elections officials got started all over again with the counting of ballots from the Nov. 3 election on Friday.

Although the county certified its election results on Monday, the week ended with officials having to count every vote cast in the presidential by hand as part of a recount requested by President Donald Trump’s campaign. The state is also folding in an audit ordered by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into the process.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been called the winner of the 2020 presidential election by the Associated Press, defeated Trump in Georgia, but the margin was narrow enough that the president requested a hand recount.

That means, in Gwinnett County alone, 413,865 votes that were cast in the presidential race must be viewed one-by-one to verify the results. Biden won Gwinnett with 58% of the votes cast, according to the certified results.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this,” Gwinnett County Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston said on Friday afternoon. “We got in here (Thursday) evening, worked through the night a little bit to get everything set up, and then (Friday) morning, we came in, gave the oath to everybody, explained how to do it and I think we really hit a stride when they came back from lunch.”

Election workers work diligently to hand recount all the Gwinnett County ballots at the election office in Lawrenceville, Georgia on Friday, November 13, 2020. (Video: Curt Yeomans / Gwinnett Daily Post)

The recount will not be an easy task to complete. Royston said she could not say for sure when election workers were expected to wrap up their work, but they were expected to work throughout the weekend and into the early part of the next week. They began working with absentee-by-mail ballots on Friday.

There were 82 bins that contained absentee ballots for elections workers to go through, and Royston was optimistic that the county would possibly be done recounting ballots in as many as 52 of those containers by the end of Friday.

“Each container is going to have a different number of ballots in it, so getting a number throughout ... we’re not going to be able to do that as far as ballots are concerned, but we will know the number of containers that we have done,” she said.

But, the county doesn’t have a lot of time to get the counting done. The recount must be completed by the middle of the upcoming week, Royston said.

“We’ll be here until it’s done,” she said. “We have until 11:59 (p.m.) on Wednesday to have it finished, so we’ll work until we get that (done).”

There were 64 tables set up for the recount at the county’s elections headquarters in Lawrenceville on Friday although only 52 of them were occupied by teams of two people going through ballots. Poll workers are expected to be brought in this weekend to increase the number of teams going through ballots.

“The tables have signs on them, telling them where to lay the ballots,” Royston said. “We take the containers out and they start working that container, and there are batches in there of ballots. They put the batch up, they document the number and then they sort the ballots and they hand count the ballots.

“And I would look at it and my partner would look at it, and we would then count them at the same time.”

There are more pages per ballot for Gwinnett to deal with than other counties would have. That’s because Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia that is under a federal mandate to provide elections materials in both English and Spanish due to a higher number of residents where Spanish is spoken in their homes.

As a result, the ballot is longer in Gwinnett and takes up two pages — but only the page that contains the presidential race is needed in the recount.

“We are only looking at the president, and this is another case where Gwinnett is different from any other county because we have that second page, so we have to move it out of the way and get them stacked once they are sorted,” Royston said.

“They have different places on their tables where they put Trump ballots, Biden ballots, Jorgenson ballots and then they just put the second page over to the side.”

A livestream of the recount is being broadcast at www.gwinnettcounty.com/web/gwinnett/departments/elections.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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