A Look At How Election Recounts Work In Atlanta

Mary Norwood is expected to request a recount in Atlanta's mayoral runoff. Here's a look at how that would work.
Mary Norwood is expected to request a recount in Atlanta's mayoral runoff. Here's a look at how that would work.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press
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City Council member, and possible mayor elect, Keisha Lance Bottoms seemed to have won the most votes in Atlanta’s mayoral runoff Tuesday, although official results have not been certified. Bottoms beat Mary Norwood by almost 800 votes, and her campaign has already declared victory.

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Certified results may not be available until the end of the week, but Norwood said she is committed to requesting a recount if the margin turns out to be 1 percent or less.

“We’re going to know that every single vote that has been cast is exactly reported out the way that it should be and will be,” Norwood told supporters Tuesday night.

Georgia law lays the groundwork for election recounts.

If a recount is requested for this election, the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections will conduct it at its election center on English Street.

According to the department, the losing candidate can request a recount within 48 hours after election results are certified.

Afterward, the election superintendent must give each campaign a written notice that a recount will occur.

Department Director Richard Barron said in an email that the entire recount would take about three hours. Georgia law allows both candidates to attend the event or send someone to stand in for them. Both campaigns can also send two representatives each.

If touchscreen voting machines were used, Barron said poll officials would rerun the electronic media and look for possible errors. Georgia law says that the superintendent also must give a written notice about the recount to the voting machine custodian and the county or municipal chairperson of each affected body.

“The supervisor would oversee the replay of all the tabulated votes from the machines in the different precincts just to make sure there were no errors in the recording,” said Kerwin Swint, who is the chair of the political science and international affairs department at Kennesaw State University.

For paper ballots, poll officials will rerun the ballots through optical scan units. Barron said if an error did occur, it’s likely it happened because of the scan reader.

“The miscount can happen when the ballot goes through the reader and the optical scanners read a timing mark wrong or the machines interprets a mark incorrectly,” Barron said in an email.

After data from the polling machines are rerun, the custodian must write a statement of the event in the presence of everyone who attended the recount, the Georgia law says. The superintendent will file the statement.

If any error was found in the recount of both the polling machines and paper ballots, all papers will be corrected and the election results will be recertified, according to Georgia’s candidate guide.

KSU’s Swint said it’s expected there will be a recount in Atlanta’s mayoral runoff.

“It’s just not likely to change much,” he said.

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