A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the results of Georgia’s gubernatorial race cannot be certified until certain absentee ballots have been counted.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones came hours after Republican Brian Kemp claimed to have an “insurmountable lead” over Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is seeking to become the first black woman elected governor in the U.S.
Jones ruled that each county’s certified vote tally must include absentee ballots on which the voter’s date of birth is missing or incorrect, an order that stems from a request in a lawsuit filed by the Abrams campaign over the weekend. However, Jones declined Democratic requests to extend the period during which evidence could be submitted to prove the eligibility of voters who cast provisional ballots. He also declined to order that provisional ballots cast by voters who went to a precinct in the wrong county be counted.
Kemp currently has 50.27 percent of the vote, compared to 48.79 percent for Abrams. Abrams’ campaign believes she needs a net gain of 17,759 votes to pull Kemp below the 50 percent threshold and force a Dec. 4 runoff. Kemp’s campaign said even if every vote that Abrams campaign is arguing for is granted by the courts and counted for her, she cannot overcome his lead or force a runoff.
Both sides have accused the other of wrongdoing, with Democrats casting doubt on any vote count that ends with Kemp — Georgia’s former secretary of state — being certified as the winner.
“We believe that Brian Kemp mismanaged this election to sway it in his favor,” Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said earlier Wednesday, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers at the Georgia Capitol.
For their part, Kemp’s campaign repeated calls for Abrams to concede, accusing her and her supporters of using “fake vote totals,” “desperate press conferences” and “dangerous lawsuits” to try to steal the election.
“After all of the theatrics, the math remains the same,” Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall said in an email. “Abrams lost and Brian Kemp won. This election is over.”
The lawsuit Jones ruled on Wednesday was one of several election-related complaints filed before multiple federal judges.
U.S. District Judge Leigh May ordered Gwinnett County election officials Tuesday not to reject absentee ballots just because the voter’s birth year is missing or wrong. She also ordered the county to delay certification of its election results until those ballots have been counted.
Jones’ ruling effectively extended May’s order to the other 158 counties in Georgia.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg late Monday ordered state officials not to do their final certification of election results before 5 p.m. Friday.
State law sets a Nov. 20 deadline, but secretary of state’s office elections director Chris Harvey testified last week that the state had planned to certify the election results Wednesday, a day after the deadline for counties to certify their results. He said that would allow preparations to begin for any runoff contests, including those already projected in the races for secretary of state and a Public Service Commission seat.
Totenberg’s order left untouched the county certification deadline. Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday that all counties but Gwinnett have certified their totals.
Totenberg also ordered the secretary of state’s office to establish and publicize a hotline or website enabling voters to check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, why not. And she ordered the secretary of state’s office to review or have county election authorities review the eligibility of voters who had to cast provisional ballots because of registration issues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.