In one of several nail-biting political contests, the Georgia governor’s election results remain close, though Republican Brian Kemp retains both the lead and has enough votes to cross a 50% threshold of all votes cast and avoid a runoff election with Democrat Stacey Abrams.
A Georgia run-off would occur on Dec. 4 if Kemp’s total, currently at 50.3%, dropped below 50% plus 1 vote. In absolute terms, he’s currently about 13,000 votes above the threshold.
Kemp is also ahead of Abrams about 60,000 votes at 1.97 million to 1.91 million votes or a gap of more than 1% (currently about 39,000 votes), a threshold for a potential taxpayer-paid recount. A third-party candidate, Ted Met, received 0.9% of votes cost, or about 37,000 votes.
But dramatic reversals in close elections, especially involving governors, have happened before. Here are some scenarios.
Remaining Votes Break Heavily to Abrams and Additional Ballots Found or Added
Kemp’s campaign said that it’s now mathematically impossible for Abrams to receive enough votes for him to drop below the 50% plus 1 threshold. If 100% of remaining absentee ballots and provisional ballots were counted and were cast for Abrams, Kemp would still narrowly exceed 50%.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office notes on a provisional ballot page that an unofficial count was around 22,000 following the election. (Kemp resigned his position as secretary of state mid-day on Nov. 8.) Abrams’s campaign has disputed that total. Not all provisional ballots will be found valid and counted, but experts expect a fairly high percentage will this year because of last-minute changes by Kemp, some of which were blocked by a court, and could result in voters casting a provisional ballot, even when there remains no dispute over their legitimacy to vote.
The state also said on Nov. 7 that it had just a few thousand absentee ballots to count. A lawsuit Abrams filed Nov. 8 could increase the number of uncounted absentee ballots, too.
And it’s common for additional ballots to be uncovered before votes are certified—not just in elections where the secretary of state in charge of the election is also running for governor, as Kemp was.
Nonetheless, a run-off remains a long shot, but could occur if Abrams were to force a recount, but the paths to recount are few.
Abrams Demands a Recount
Georgia law allows a recount if there’s less than a 1% margin between candidates. A candidate has to apply to the secretary of state, which was Kemp until Nov. 8, to obtain a recount with that margin. However, the law requires a recount to be ordered and paid for by the state.
At present, the margin is 39,000 votes, far below the 60,000 votes that separate the two candidates. If the state’s count of absentee ballots and provisional ballots is accurate, it would require nearly every one of those to be valid and be in Abrams’s favor to drop below 1%.
However, voting officials can choose to audit or recount if they find a discrepancy or errors. Because Georgia uses voting machines without a paper trail, only a digital tally exists of votes. That also prevents Abrams from effectively paying for a recount, as Georgia law only allows candidates to pay for recounts in precincts that use paper ballots.
Abrams has stated publicly that she wants a recount, but cannot simply request one.
Abrams Obtains Injunctions or Relief in Court
It’s not precisely clear what legal strategy might work, and judges are typically loathe to intervene in election outcomes after voting has occurred. However, the Abrams campaign could sue to demand an intervention that would require examination of alleged voting irregularities and polling-station issues, or to re-examine denied provisionally cast ballots.
Abrams campaign said on Nov. 8 it had sued Dougherty County over absentee ballots. The campaign says that a combination of Hurricane Michael, an error that omitted one candidate’s name and led to an injunction, and the county election office’s failures to send ballots in a timely fashion to some and at all to others require redress.
The campaign might also sue for a full recount. Judges are more likely to issue orders for recounts with slim margins and evidence of problems than to allow additional ballots to be counted or other remedies.
The Likely Outcome: Kemp Becomes Governor
The most likely outcome from all of the above is that Kemp is certified the winner on Nov. 20, and takes office as governor in January 2019.
However, he shouldn’t count his chickens too soon. In 2004, Dino Rossi was declared the winner in the Washington State gubernatorial election—by 261 votes. Two recounts later plus 700 accidentally uncounted ballots and a host of court hearings and challenges, and Rossi’s opponent, Chris Gregoire was declared the winner by 129 votes. She beat Rossi again four years later—this time by 6%.