On today's BradCast: Georgia's embattled Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger made a surprising --- and somewhat bizarre --- announcement at a press conference on Wednesday morning. He declared that the state would be carrying out a full, statewide hand-count in the Presidential race of "every single piece of paper, every single ballot, every single lawfully cast ballot." As of airtime, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in that race by more than 14,000 votes out of nearly five million votes cast this year in the Peach State, with very few ballots reportedly left to tally. [Audio link to full show is posted below summary.]
"With the margin being so close, it will require a full, by-hand recount in each county," Raffensperger declared. "This will help build confidence. It will be an audit, a recount, and a recanvass all at once." But, as our guest today explains, an audit, recount and recanvass all very different things that can't and don't actually happen at the same time.
The announcement has resulted in a lot of questions today, that we both ask and try to answer.
For a start, recount laws in Georgia only appear to allow the Sec. of State to declare a recount in the event that there is evidence of fraud that could change the final results. He has offered no such evidence. Otherwise, if the margin of difference between the two leading candidates is 0.5% or less, a candidate may then petition the Secretary for a recount. To my knowledge, however, neither candidate has yet petitioned for such a count, even with the margin currently at 0.28% and still rising for Biden. One reason is likely because a recount can't be petitioned until after the race has been certified. County certification in the state is due this Friday, with the deadline for certification by the state not until next Friday (November 20th.)
Earlier this year, however, Georgia announced a new pilot program for a post-election Risk-Limiting Audit (or RLA) process. An RLA, in short, is a process and protocol invented in recent years by UC-Berkley Prof. Philip Stark (who has been a guest on our show) in which hand-counts of small, randomly-selected samples of ballots in a race are carried out to determine, supposedly with 95% scientific certainty, that the results reported by the computer tabulators accurately reflect voter intent. The larger the margin in a race, the fewer ballots need to be counted to achieve that certainty under the mathematical RLA protocol. In very close races, or if mistallies are found along the way while hand-counting, a larger sample is then counted, all the way up to a full hand-count of all ballots, when necessary.
In Georgia, Raffensperger had previously announced that the state's pilot RLA program would be carried out on just one single race every two years. The race would be personally selected by the Secretary. Until today, that race was not expected to be the Presidential race in Georgia. In fact, in the first outing for the state's pilot RLA program after their June primaries earlier this year, just 27 ballots were counted in total in the RLA. Today, however, for reasons still unknown, Raffensperger declared that the Presidential race would be selected for the RLA and that, due to its tight margin, all ballots would be hand-counted.
Raffensperger has long been under fire from Election Integrity advocates for his recent selection of the Dominion Voting Systems touchscreen Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) for in-person voting. That, after a federal judge last year ordered the state to get rid of its 20-year Diebold touchscreens which she determined to be unsecure, unverifiable and, therefore, unconstitutional. The new systems chosen by Raffensperger may eventually face the same fate, according to the judge.
The new touchscreens print out a computer-marked paper ballot summary, supposedly to be reviewed by each voter at the end of the touchscreen process. But they are 100% unverifiable after an election. Nobody can know if the summaries were reviewed or not, much less accurately. Studies show that most voters do not review them, and that 93% of voters do not notice when the computer has changed one of their votes. RLAs of paper ballot summaries produced by BMDs, according to Stark, cannot possibly confirm voter intent. They can only confirm whether the computerized optical-scan tabulators tallied them correctly as per the QRCode printed on each ballot summary. (Yes, voters who do bother to review the printouts will review the human-readable summary printed on them. That portion of the ballot is not actually tallied by the scanners --- the QR barcode is tallied instead.)
And while Election Integrity folks have long been critical of Raffensperger (and, in fact, are suing the state of Georgia to get rid of the BMDs and move to a less expensive, verifiable hand-marked paper ballot system for all voters at the polling place, as recommended by cybersecurity and voting systems experts), this week, many on the Right have suddenly decided that they are also now also critical of Raffensperger's selection of the Dominion systems and his administration of the Presidential election that Trump appears to have lost in the state. On Monday night, the state's two incumbent Republican U.S. Senators called on Raffensperger to resign in advance of the two U.S. Senate runoffs set for January 5th, which which will determine whether Democrats are able to take back control of the upper chamber in Congress. (For my part, I've invited Republicans to join my call for all hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots for those easy to count runoffs, as that would provide full transparency that even the GOP shouldn't complaint about, since it would remove Dominion's hardware and software from the entire process.)
At the same time, millions of hand-marked paper ballots were also cast in this year's election in Georgia, due to the COVID pandemic. A hand-count of those ballots under the RLA process may or may not reveal errors in the tabulation, but --- presuming the chain of custody has been secure --- would help confirm the accuracy of the reported results...at least for the hand-marked ballots.
None of this, meanwhile, will change the ultimate results of the Presidential election nationally --- at least not on its own. Even if the results in Georgia were to somehow flip to Trump, Biden would still have more than enough Electoral College votes, even without Georgia, to win the Presidency if his current leads in all of the other states remain.
If all of this sounds like a confusing mess, that's because it is. And, to be frank, it's unclear, at least to me, whether Raffensperger even knows what the hell he is talking about in declaring this simultaneous RLA/Recount/Recanvass. Nonetheless, we try to make sense of what is known and unknown today --- and both ask and answer many more questions --- with my guest EDDIE PEREZ, Global Director of Technology and Standards at the nonpartisan, nonprofit Open Source Election Technology (OSET) Institute. Before joining OSET, Perez spent some 15 years as the Director of Product Management at Austin, TX-based Hart-Intercivic, the nation's third-largest private voting systems vendor.
Jump on in to today's full show for what I hope is an invaluable, detailed conversation about all of this, if you want to know what the hell is now going on in Georgia and whether any of it can actually work or otherwise ultimately effect the Presidential results. Perez has a lot of experience and insight to share while he expresses his own concerns that what may be going on here is "a kind of election integrity theater" being carried out by Raffensperger, "where neither side is particularly satisfied" by the ultimate result....whatever it may turn out to be.
Also on today's program: The latest updates on several election results elsewhere; 28 election officials in one Missouri County have contracted COVID, most likely from voters during the election; A new poll from Reuters finds that nearly 80% of the electorate --- including Republicans --- believe Biden is the winner...
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