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Center Observes Record-Breaking Georgia Audit

  • On Nov. 3, 2020, at a polling site in Manhattan, New Yorkers cast their votes in the U.S. election. (Photo: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.com)

In November, the state of Georgia undertook the largest hand tally of election ballots ever performed in the United States. And The Carter Center had a front-row seat.

Earlier in the fall, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and The Carter Center agreed that the Center would observe the state’s planned risk-limiting audit of the presidential race — the first time The Carter Center has ever formally observed any part of a U.S. election.

Risk-limiting audits are new to Georgia and are considered the best way to determine whether the presumed winner did, in fact, win. Auditors use statistical formulas to randomly sample a certain percentage of ballots in every precinct. The closer the race, the larger the ballot sample.

Because Georgia’s presidential race turned out to be so close, the ballot sample would have to have been very large, about 1.5 million ballots. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger decided that given the time involved in pulling together a sample of that size, it would be faster to count every ballot—nearly 5 million in all.

Suddenly, The Carter Center had a much bigger project on its hands than it had imagined.

The Democracy Program, with an assist from the Center’s events department, sprang into action, training 52 staffers and volunteers and deploying them to 24 counties, which together accounted for more than 60% of the votes cast in Georgia.

Monitors reported that the audit generally was conducted according to procedures and without significant problems. Despite the short lead time for planning or training staff, and the added difficulty of conducting a recount in the middle of a pandemic, county election officials provided meaningful access for observers and pulled off a successful audit by the state-mandated deadline.

The audit found a few thousand ballots that had gone uncounted because of human error but turned up no evidence of major problems, ultimately confirming that Joe Biden had won Georgia.

The process, according to the Carter Center’s final report, should serve as the basis for increased confidence in Georgia’s electoral system.

Related Resources

2020 Election: Center Tackles Transparency, Political Violence >

Learn more about the Carter Center's Democracy Program >

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