Judge Orders Georgia Counties to Count Birthdate-Error Ballots

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge has ordered all Georgia counties to count ballots that initially were set aside because of missing or inaccurate birthdates on the forms. The order was one of a slew of rulings this week that have left the governor’s race unresolved.

“After due consideration, the court agrees with plaintiffs,” U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones said in a ruling Wednesday in federal court in Atlanta. “Absentee mail-in ballots rejected solely because of a birth year error or omission must be counted statewide.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, the former secretary of state, currently leads with 50.2 percent of the vote to 48.8 percent for Democrat Stacey Abrams, who needs a net gain of about 17,000 votes out of more than 3.9 million cast to force a runoff next month. Georgia requires a second round of voting if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

Judge Orders Georgia Counties to Count Birthdate-Error Ballots

The state will certify the election results no earlier than the close of business on Friday, due to a separate court order issued Monday.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta required the state to take extra steps to protect voters who used provisional ballots on Nov. 6 because Kemp may have failed to properly maintain the voter registration database when he served as secretary of state. Totenberg ordered the state to review all provisional ballots that were cast and set up a hot line and website for voters to check if their ballots were counted.

Provisional Ballots

Kemp, a Republican who oversaw the election in Georgia while he was on the ballot, resigned his secretary of state position after declaring that he defeated Abrams, who hasn’t conceded.

Totenberg ruled that, starting Wednesday, voters whose provisional ballots were rejected must be provided with detailed information about why they were denied. Around 27,000 provisional ballots were cast, according to the ruling. Totenberg agreed with plaintiff Common Cause Georgia that a spike in the use of provisional ballots suggested that there could have been problems with voter registration rolls. The group said Kemp increased the risk of a hack on those rolls when he publicly highlighted the database’s vulnerability just before Election Day.

If voters don’t clear up questions about their registration, their provisional ballots are unlikely to be counted.

Jones’s decision expanded to the entire state a ruling made on Tuesday by a third federal judge. U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May barred officials in populous suburban Gwinnett County from rejecting absentee ballots that don’t have voters’ birthdates filled in properly.

May ordered the county to delay certifying its results until those ballots are counted. That ruling could also affect a House race in the 7th Congressional District, where Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux is now about 700 votes behind incumbent Republican Rob Woodall.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.