Gilmer amid statewide recount and audit of elections

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County and its Probate Court are deep amid recounting ballots today as they join in what Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins is calling both an audit and a recount for the Presidential Election of 2020.

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With employees from the Probate Office, Registrars, and some other volunteers, officials are fully confident in finishing the counting by Tuesday night.

A major stress on certain county offices, this major process has drawn in employees from both the Probate Office and Registrar’s Office to undertake recounting every one of the 16,576 ballots cast in Gilmer County, according to viewers and officials present at the recount.

Begun on Friday, November 14, 2o20, the process is being undertaken in the Jury Assembly Room of the Gilmer County Courthouse. Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain said they used the Jury Assembly Room to allow public access and viewing of the audit, as required by law. However, he said the room also allowed for social distancing between tables and for space so that one table would not accidentally hear someone from the next table over possibly causing some confusion.

Chastain told FYN that the process was going well on Friday, and they have been looking at the progress daily. Scheduled to count through today and ending tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17, 2020, they actually have until midnight on Wednesday to finish the count. This means that if something happens, the county does have a buffer of one extra day just in case.

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Registrar Sherri Jones, left, helps alongside Gary Watkins, right, in the 2020 recount and audit of the Presidential Election on November 13, 2020.

Nearly twenty people at some times helping the process with including some floating staff that comes and goes, Chastain said that eleven core people including the elections review board are constantly working through the process.

Chastain and Watkins are both confident in the speed they have been accomplishing the task and are both fully confident in finishing in the scheduled time.

One of the major points of note in this process, those involved in recounting the ballots are only counting the presidential election. Chastain said this was a concern of his in the beginning. He worried that they would be needing to recount every vote in every race. Instead, focusing only on the presidential race is also helping in accomplishing the recount and audit with speed.

Moving forward, two very different outcomes could mean two very different futures for Georgia. Should the audit come up with different numbers than what the computers accounted for, Chastain said, “When we’re finished statewide, my hope is what the machines said is what we come up with. Because if we have different numbers than the machines, it’s not going to be a good situation statewide.”

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A part of the statewide audit and recount, Gilmer County is going through 16,576 ballots through day-of, in-person-early, and absentee voting.

Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins echoed a similar thought saying that the recount could prove to be a test for the election equipment statewide. Watkins has also voiced, in previous interviews, her faith in Gilmer’s elections staff and poll workers and has been happy with the efforts that Gilmer has put forth in elections.

This specific election has seen records broken in terms of those visiting in early voting as well as absentee ballots. Yet, this phrase is beginning to lose some of its impact as Gilmer has repeatedly increased in the numbers this year in each of the election days throughout local, state, and federal offices.

Regardless of what the audit comes up with, some are still concerned that hand counts could become a common thing in future elections with parties constantly claiming instances of voter fraud and suppression as well as other things. However, nothing concrete has been reported yet.

District 50 recount confirms Hatchett win, Hall concedes

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – The recount of the August 11 runoff confirmed the original results with Bo Hatchett winning the majority of the vote. He even picked up a few in some counties.

Stacy Hall, who requested a recanvassing, announced that he had conceded the race just before 8 p.m. on social media.

“With nearly 25,000 votes cast and only 38 votes separating us, today’s recount confirmed it was a very competitive race but it’s time to put the campaign to rest.  I’m incredibly grateful for the dozens of committed volunteers who worked so hard throughout my campaign and for the thousands of voters who put their trust and confidence in me.  A special thank you to my wife, Ivy Copeland Hall and my family who stood beside me through it all. I am proud to have run a campaign of integrity anchored by issues and facts.”

All eight counties in District 50 began recounting ballots on Monday, August 31 at 9 a.m.

Hatchett declared victory on August 18, week after the runoff election, but Hall held firm to his right for a recount given the narrow margin separating the two candidates.

The recount revealed that Hatchett picked up a few votes in Towns (2) and Franklin (2). The only county Hatchett carried was his home county of Habersham. Hall also lives in Habersham and serves as Commission Chair. However, Hatchett’s landslide win in Habersham was enough to propel him over the top.

Hall also lost a vote in Banks County.

Now, Hatchett will move forward to the General Election in November. He will face Democrat Dee Daley for State Senator John Wilkinson’s seat. Wilkinson opted to run for Georgia House District Nine and lost in the primary. Andrew Clyde won the runoff in that race and will face Democrat Devin Pandy.

State senate recount on Monday, Hall claims ballot mishandling

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – Georgia State Senate District 50 recount will occur on Monday, August 31, across all eight counties.

The recount will include all ballots from the August 11 runoff with counties beginning at 9 a.m. District 50 includes Franklin, Habersham, Towns, Rabun, Stephens, and Banks counties and parts of Hall and Jackson counties.
Secretary of State certified the runoff election on August 26 with Habersham attorney Bo Hatchett winning 12,492 (50.07%) votes to Stacy Hall’s 12,455 (49.93%). The 37-vote (.16 percent) difference fell within the less than one half of one percent of the total votes cast margin needed to Hall to request a recount.

“Under O.C.G.A. § 21-2-495, a recount can be requested by the second-place candidate if the difference in votes between the winning candidate and second-place candidate is not more than 0.5% of the total votes cast in the race.” – Secretary of State release. 

In Hall’s official request issued on August 26 to the Secretary of State, he cited the Georgia code and asserted absentee ballots’ mishandling in Stephens County.

“I can confirm that many voters who requested absentee ballots never received them while others received absentee ballots as late as Monday prior to the election, making it impossible to meet the deadline. Many of these voters were elderly or had medical conditions and were either advised not to vote in-person due to COVID or were not physically able to,” Hall’s request read.

Copy of recount question

Hall asks the Secretary of State to take immediate action into the matter of “disenfranchised voters” who couldn’t practice their right to vote due to extenuating circumstances.

*Edit* At the time of Fetch Your News published article about the State Senate District 50 recount, the most recent confirmed information was that a sheriff recount taking place simultaneously as the senate race. FYN learned of the decision not to recall the sheriff race on Monday.

Towns Board of Elections to recount sheriff’s race

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – After the Osborn campaign filed a petition stating cause and the Board of Elections consulted with the county attorney, Towns County will hold a recount of the sheriff’s race.

On August 12, sheriff candidate Daren “Bear” Osborn issued his initial request for a recount. The same day, the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) opened an investigation into Towns County for possible election interference. However, the SOS didn’t specify for what race or expand upon the investigation. The Board of Elections Chairman Janet Oliva was unaware of the SOS investigation. No one from the state has contacted Towns County about election interference as of August 18.

Case sheet from the Secretary of State’s office.

The county attorney advised that the Board of Elections err on the side of caution and voter concern, so they opted to honor the request for the recount.

In Osborn’s first letter, he called attention to the “small marginal difference of 40 votes a recount could show error in counting, including absentee ballots.”

The certified county results brought the margin down to 38 votes between the candidates with Kenneth “Ode” Henderson receiving 1,884 and Osborn garnering 1,846. 

The letter cited “short staffing” during the initial processing of absentee ballots and asked for a review of all absentee ballots.

Osborn requested that all ballots be reviewed without interference from either candidates’ supporters, adding that Henderson’s supporters visited the Elections office daily. This behavior potentially resulted in worker duress. Additionally, he asked that Republican party observers not be allowed within the recount area.

However, the margin didn’t meet the requirements for an automatic recount, according to the Board of Elections Chairman Janet Oliva. The recount falls under GA code § 21-2-495 (c). A candidate must request a recount in writing within two days of the election certification. If the recount determines that the original is incorrect, “the returns and all papers prepared by the superintendent, the superintendents, or the Secretary of State shall be corrected accordingly, and the results recertified.”

Since Towns County is in the middle of two recounts, both will take place on the same day. 

“We’re going to do them all in a day, the same time because that’s much more effective, so we’ll do our recall in conjunction with the Stacy Hall and Bo Hatchett recall because it’s a matter of setting the machines,” explained Oliva.

Daren Bear Osborn

Osborn has requested a recount in the sheriff election.

They must physically recount all paper ballots, which will take several hours. The state certification won’t occur until after Friday. Therefore, the recall process won’t take place for at least another week.

 The August 11 runoff resulted in 47 adjudicated ballots. These ballots were either torn or marked in a manner that the machines won’t read. As a result, the votes had to be transferred over to a clean ballot by two judges, one Republican and one Democrat. They read the “spoiled” ballot and determine how that person intended to vote. Once determined, the machine processes the clean ballot. The smallest tear can result in adjudication because of the machine’s sensitivity.

As for provisional ballots, they counted ten and rejected six.

The Osborn campaign has turned in 28 separate vote challenges with names of voters, who potentially do not live in Towns County or voters up for being purged from the rolls. 

The upcoming recount doesn’t mean that the election office is accepting or validating any of the challenges made by the campaign. The Board of Elections is carrying out Georgia law, which grants candidates the capability to request a recount.

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