ATLANTA - Georgia Secretary of State said out of the more than 5 million ballots cast in the state, the presidential race will likely come down to just a few thousand votes with the results still being too close to call and a recall will be likely, leaving the state's 16 electoral votes still up in the air.
As of 10 p.m. with the addition of counted ballots from Gwinnett County, former Vice-President Joe Biden led President Donald Trump by 4,020 votes in the state, adding some distance from earlier in the day when Georgia first swung in favor of the Democratic candidate. That swing was in part due to the completion of the ballot count in Clayton County.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spoking during a press conference on Friday afternoon discussing the continued counting.
"Georgia deserves accurate, real election results," Raffensperger said. "Election workers around the state are working with integrity to ensure every legal ballot is counted, and no illegal ballots are counted."
Raffensperger said his office is focused on ensuring every legal vote is added and counted accurately. He said it is important to maintain the trust of the public.
"The final tally in Georgia, at this point has huge implications across the country. The stakes are high and the emotions are high on all sides," he said. "We will not let those debates distract us from our work. We will get it right and we will defend the integrity of our elections."
The secretary of state also said officials are being open with monitors being allowed in for transparency and pledged his office would investigate all legitimate claims regardless of partisan preference.
Gabriel Sterling, who is in charge of the elections infrastructure in Georgia said there were about 8,400 overseas/military ballots and 14,200 provisional ballots outstanding across the state.
Those overseas ballots or UOCAVA ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and must have arrived by 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Sterling said just because the 8,400 are outstanding does not mean they will make it in time to be counted.
Sterling said there are about 14,200 provisional ballots that were received by count election officials on Election Day. Officials are working to determine the validity of those ballots, but not all will be accepted.
"If a voter tries to cast a ballot at the wrong precinct, they cast a provisional ballot and only the races relevant to their assigned precinct are counted. If a voter tries to cast a ballot in the wrong county, they are only eligible to cast ballots in statewide races," the Georgia Secretary of State's Office explained in a release Friday. "If a voter attempts to cast a ballot but is not listed as a registered voter, they vote a provisional ballot, which is set aside until county officials or the voter him or herself clarifies their registration status. Lastly, provisional ballots are used for any votes cast during court extended voting hours."
Neither candidate has reached the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden eclipsed Trump in Wisconsin and Michigan, two crucial Midwestern battleground states, overtook the president in Georgia and was inching closer to doing the same in Pennsylvania, where votes were still be counted.
It was unclear when a national winner would be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy. The U.S. on Wednesday set another record for daily confirmed cases as several states posted all-time highs.
The pandemic has killed more than 233,000 people in the United States.
Sterling said with the tight vote in some races, a recount will likely be triggered. That could take up to a week after the Nov. 13 certification deadline, meaning the final numbers might not be known until Nov. 20.
"Officials in numerous counties are continuing to count ballots, with strong security protocols in place to protect the integrity of our election,” said Raffensperger. “We have long anticipated – and said publicly – that counting would most likely take place into Wednesday night and perhaps Thursday morning. 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.”
Sterling also cleared up some confusion voters were having about the way they voted. He said early voting, for state purposes, is considered in-person absentee voting.
“Early voting in person is what’s called ‘absentee in person,’” Sterling said Thursday afternoon. "That’s why your ballot status shows that your absentee ballot was accepted. It’s confusing, but it doesn’t mean someone else mailed in a ballot with your name. It simply means your vote was counted when you cast your ballot in person during early voting."
As for the transparency of the state's voting system, Sterling said the state takes voting extremely seriously.
"If anyone was trying to rig the system, the numbers wouldn't be this close," Sterling said. "We know how many requests came in for absentee ballots and we know how many were received."
Sterling said the Secretary of State's Office has been monitoring for fraud and possible cheating.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.