We will continue to update this story as new information becomes available. This story was last updated at 2 p.m. Thursday, November 8.
People who went to sleep on Election Night hoping that all would be revealed come morning woke up today with little clarity not just about who would become the next governor of Georgia, but even about what lies ahead. In the early morning hours, Democrat Stacey Abrams saw hope for her chances to trigger a runoff in thousands of outstanding ballots from across the state, but particularly from counties like Gwinnett and Fulton, where she performed well. Republican Brian Kemp felt confident his lead would hold. Where do things stand, and what happens next?
So who won? As of Wednesday at noon, Brian Kemp leads Stacey Abrams by 65,145 votes (50.36 percent). However, not all the votes have been counted. Absentee ballots, military ballots, and provisional ballots—for example, paper ballots that are given to voters who might have shown up to the wrong polling precinct or who don’t have photo ID—are still outstanding. In Georgia, a candidate must have “50 percent plus one” votes to win. And according to the Abrams campaign, those outstanding ballots could prevent Kemp from reaching that threshold, triggering a runoff.
Update: Kemp has declared victory in the race and began announcing his transition team alongside Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday morning, but Abrams is not conceding the race. Her campaign team held a press conference at noon Thursday and announced that they would file a lawsuit in Dougherty County, saying that issues with slow mailing of absentee ballots from the county and Hurricane Michael led to voters not being able to vote by mail. “We are in this race until we are convinced that every vote is counted,” said campaign chair Allegra Lawrence-Hardy.
How many ballots have not been counted? We don’t know. In a conference call with reporters this morning, Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said she thinks Kemp is roughly 15,000 votes shy of the runoff threshold. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, pointing to the secretary of state’s website, says that number is closer to 32,000, but the number will fluctuate as results continue to trickle in.
Update: At the Thursday noon press conference, Groh-Wargo said Kemp is 25,622 votes above the threshold for a runoff and that 23,372 more Abrams votes would trigger a recount. She cited the secretary of state’s office as saying there were still 22,000 provisional ballots plus an “additional 3,000” votes that had yet to be counted, and noted military and overseas absentee ballots (of which she cited 1,000 in Fulton County alone) had until Friday to arrive be counted. She also mentioned that 303 early votes were counted in Cobb County just this morning—236 additional for Abrams, 65 additional for Kemp, 2 additional for Metz. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that secretary of state spokesperson Candice Broce said there “less than 2,000” absentee and mail-in ballots yet to be counted and that there were 22,000 provisional ballots still to be counted. At his press conference Thursday morning, Kemp said only about 20,000 provisional ballots had yet to be counted, according to the Associated Press.
If we don’t know exactly how many ballots are outstanding, why does the Abrams campaign think there’s a chance? More than 3.9 million Georgians voted in the 2018 gubernatorial election—1.3 million more people than voters in the 2014 contest. Voting issues were reported at polling precincts in Gwinnett and Fulton counties, forcing the extension of voting times. (At roughly 11:15 p.m., as Abrams supporters were on the losing end of a 10-point margin to Kemp, reports spread among journalists that people were still waiting in line to vote in Fulton County. A tweet from a Fulton County account sent at 11:49 p.m. announced that voting had been completed in all precincts.) Based on their own poll tracking, Groh-Wargo said the Abrams team thinks ballots are still trickling in from some counties, including those where voters encountered difficulty and which appear favorable to Abrams. They’re estimating that 15,000 mail ballots alone are still outstanding. On top of all that, the campaign said mail from Dougherty County in southwest Georgia is being routed to Tallahassee because of the recent hurricane. The number of ballots in that mix could number in the thousands, Groh-Wargo said. Simply put: all these ballots could add up to not to a victory for Abrams, but a runoff, forcing the two candidates to return to the campaign trail, and supporters to the polls. But that’s only if enough were cast for Abrams.
What does Kemp say? Wednesday morning around 2:30 a.m., Kemp told his supporters at the Classic Center in Athens that he feels the “math is on their side to win this election.” Kemp’s campaign reiterated around lunchtime that they are “skeptical of Abrams’s math.”
So what happens next? Counties have until Monday or Tuesday to certify the results of the election. Considering that Monday is a federal holiday (Veterans Day is Sunday), Groh-Wargo said they’ve been told that most counties will try to sign off on the election results by Friday or the day after the holiday. Other counties did not respond or didn’t know yet. The secretary of state—in this case, Kemp, who declined to step down from his role as chief elections officer—has until November 20 to certify the results and hear any challenges. The Abrams campaign says it has asked Governor Nathan Deal to extend the deadline until Friday for ballots from Dougherty County to be received. In addition they are looking at “all options,” including litigation.
Will Kemp recuse himself from overseeing the elections? Kemp has thus far refused to step down from his post. But that’s what a group of five Georgia voters who filed an emergency lawsuit against the secretary of state yesterday just before the polls closed want him to do. Filed on behalf of the voters by the group Protect Democracy, the lawsuit points to Kemp’s investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia over allegedly hacking the voting system—Kemp did not point to any evidence for the probe in his public comments—as why the secretary of state should recuse himself from participating in the count, a recount, or certification of the results. In a response to Politico about the lawsuit, secretary of state spokesperson Broce said “this twelfth-hour stunt will not distract us from fulfilling our responsibilities and working with county officials to ensure a secure, accessible and fair election for all eligible Georgians.”
Update: On Thursday morning, Kemp announced his resignation as Georgia secretary of state, effective 11:59 a.m. The announcement came as the hearing for the lawsuit mentioned above was happening, according to the Associated Press. He made the announcement during a press conference where he also began announcing his gubernatorial transition team.
How does this affect the other close races, particularly in the suburbs north of Atlanta, like Karen Handel’s challenge against Lucy McBath in the 6th congressional district (McBath has 50.45 percent of the vote), or Rob Woodall’s challenge (50.23 percent) against Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th? Abrams officials say they’re still seeing ballots come in from Gwinnett and Fulton—and are keeping their eyes on all counties statewide. Every vote counts in every election, but they’re especially important in close races, including these. Stay tuned.
Update: On Thursday morning, Republican incumbent Handel conceded to Democrat McBath in the race for Georgia’s 6th congressional district seat. The congressional seat that made national headlines in 2017 when Democrat Jon Ossoff ran and ultimately lost against Handel in the district that for decades has been a Republican stronghold.
How long until we get closure, sweet closure? It could be days. Possibly even a week. Deep breaths.
Before you go, did the referendum allowing earlier Sunday sales of alcohol in restaurants pass? Yes! Finally, something on which we all can agree.