A rural Georgia elections office run by Republicans who promote falsehoods about the 2020 election approved a motion on Monday to institute automatic hand recounts for all future elections.
The decision will require elections staff in Spalding county to hand-count each ballot, then compare those vote totals with totals reached by voting tabulation machines provided by the secretary of state. Hand counts slow certification of election results and are less reliable than tabulations carried out by machines.
In introducing the measure, Republican board member James Newland cited false claims about widespread voter fraud.
“This board intends to do all we can to ensure we have fair elections, elections where each voter counts but [where] as few people who don’t really exist vote as possible,” Newland said. There is no evidence that people who do not exist or are not eligible actually vote in any significant number in US elections.
The lone Democrat present at the board of elections meeting, Dexter Wimbish, objected to the measure after initially supporting the idea. He changed his mind when Republicans on the board said they did not factor the costs to taxpayers of hand recounts into their decision to implement them.
“The notion that you can say it doesn’t matter how much something is going to cost when we’re the ones who [are] going to pay for it makes absolutely no sense,” Wimbish said.
Outside Georgia, other jurisdictions have tried to move to hand-counting since the 2020 election, including Cochise county, Arizona; Nye county, Nevada; and Shasta county, California.
Spalding county’s board first proposed the hand-count measure on 11 July when it introduced a motion to completely eliminate voting machines and move the county to an all-paper ballot system – a violation of state election law, which requires the use of Dominion voting machines for statewide and national elections. Hand-counting is favored by a complex coalition of election-denying conservatives and some liberals concerned about the safety of the state’s voting machines after the illegal breach of election equipment in Coffee county after the 2020 election.
Before proposing the measure, Newland, the election supervisor Kim Slaughter and Republican board chair, Ben Johnson, attended a hand-count demonstration that day hosted by the Republican election attorney David Cross and the election denier group Georgians For Truth.
Johnson is a full-throated QAnon adherent who believes a wide array of false conspiracies about Democrats and the so-called deep state, as well as elections – one of dozens of election deniers who sit on election boards throughout Georgia.
That night, the county attorney, Stephanie Windham, informed the board that instituting a system of hand-counted paper ballots was illegal and would expose the county to lawsuits from the secretary of state and others.
“As county attorney, I could not advise you to do what you are proposing doing, regardless of how I feel personally,” Windham said.
Windham and Slaughter did not respond to a request for comment, nor did members of the election board, the county commission, and the state election board.
The board voted to call a special meeting, held on Monday night. There, Newland introduced a compromise: hand-counting ballots that machines had already tabulated. If there’s a discrepancy between the two totals, the board could decide to withhold certification of election results, which would give ammunition to election deniers and others who believe false claims about widespread voter fraud.
The board did not say how they would conduct hand counts or what the cost would be to taxpayers, but it could exceed the actual costs of the counting because missing certification deadlines is a violation of state law that would result in “significant fines to the county”, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office said. The county has recently cut services due to budget deficits.
Paper ballot activists have been making their voices heard in Georgia in recent weeks, protesting along the side of a highway in Brunswick and inundating an elections board meeting in Savannah. There, one activist was carried out of the meeting by police.
Spalding county’s decision on Monday was not the first time the election board has found itself in the middle of controversy. After a hostile takeover of the board carried out by the area’s representatives in the state legislature, Republicans canceled Sunday voting in the county, a move that was protested by Black voters.
The Republicans in Spalding’s election office also attempted to hire the same IT firm that was behind the illegal breach in Coffee county that is part of the investigation by the Fulton county district attorney, into the Trump campaign’s meddling in the 2020 election.
Slaughter and others were subpoenaed last year as part of that inquiry, according to emails obtained by the Guardian.
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