Just peachy: Federal judge orders Georgia to postpone election certification

Brian Kemp may need to keep the champagne on ice for a couple of more days — and maybe keep some extra ice around for headaches. Late last night, a federal judge intervened in the process for certifying the state’s midterm election results in the midst of a fight over provisional ballots. Instead of certifying the results tomorrow as planned, the state will have to wait until at least Friday:

A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to ensure provisional ballots aren’t improperly rejected and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor.

In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the secretary of state’s office to establish and publicize a hotline or website where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots, she ordered the secretary of state’s office to review, or have county election officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional ballot because of registration issues.

Totenberg also ruled that Georgia must not certify the election results before Friday at 5 p.m., which falls before the Nov. 20 deadline set by state law.

The problem for Georgia is that the state will have to hold at least one run-off election, as no candidate got 50% of the vote for the secretary of state contest. That run-off will take place on December 4th, and so certifying the statewide vote tomorrow will give the state some extra time to prepare for the next election. The statutory deadline is not until November 20th, however, so it appears Totenberg split the baby somewhat between the two sides in the gubernatorial race. In her ruling, Totenberg expressed a desire to take “modest” action aimed mainly at protecting voters:

Totenberg said she’s providing “limited, modest” relief to help protect voters. The order preserves Tuesday’s deadline for county election offices to certify results and the Nov. 20 deadline for Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden to certify the election. The ruling enjoins Crittenden from certifying the election before Friday at 5 p.m.

Her ruling applies to provisional ballots, which were issued to as many as 27,000 Georgia voters because their registration or identification couldn’t be verified. Provisional ballots are usually only counted if voters prove their eligibility within three days of the election, a deadline that passed Friday.

The decision doesn’t say whether additional provisional ballots could be counted after election results are certified at the county level Tuesday.

The gap in the gubernatorial race is presently more than 57,000 votes, so Stacy Abrams can’t win even if she gets every signal vote from the provisional ballots. However, Kemp’s currently at 50.262% of the vote, barely enough to keep from having to face Abrams in a runoff. Abrams is hoping to get enough votes out of the provisional ballots to force Kemp into a head-to-head match on December 4th.

Is that possible? Yes, but only just. In order to fall below the 50% mark now with just the provisional ballots as the pool of remaining votes, Kemp would have to have received fewer than 3,510 votes in the provisional ballots if they all get accepted and counted. It doesn’t matter how many votes Abrams gets, assuming all 27,000 turn out to be valid; she doesn’t need to gain another vote as long as Kemp doesn’t get them. However, that would require Kemp to get less than 13% of provisional ballots while winning slightly more than 50% in the overall vote — which would be a very strange statistical anomaly.

The distribution of outstanding provisional ballots makes this scenario even less likely. Between Democratic bastions DeKalb and Fulton counties, there are 6,678 outstanding provisional ballots — but even in these counties, Kemp got 16% and 27% of the vote, respectively. Cobb County has 2202 provisional ballots, but Kemp got 45% of the Cobb County vote. He also got 42% of the vote in Gwinett, which has 2,427 provisional ballots outstanding. Between those four Atlanta-region counties in Abrams’ power base, there are less than half of the provisional ballots left to count (11,307), and the rest are widely dispersed throughout the state. There is no reason to suspect that Kemp won’t get more than enough votes to sustain a majority and avoid a runoff, even if every provisional ballot is accepted.

This looks like a postponement of the inevitable. Abrams came close enough to contest the issue, but not close enough to win it through legal maneuvers. But the fact she got this close in the first place is a big warning sign for Republicans about Georgia in 2020 and beyond.