Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger delivers a press conference Nov. 4, 2020.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger delivers a press conference Nov. 4, 2020.

Credit: Stephen Fowler | GPB News

As Wednesday night prepared to give way to Thursday morning, the number of absentee ballots needing to be counted in Georgia dwindled - and so did the slim margin between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. 

As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, President Trump led Biden by just about 31,000 votes, as the final outstanding ballots come in from heavily-Democratic counties like Fulton.

Officials in Georgia's largest county, processing their votes inside the State Farm Arena, hoped to have the remainder of their ballots processed before 3 a.m. under pressure from a public hungry to know if Biden wins the White House and gives Democrats the state for the first time since 1992 and from the state's chief election official seeking to move along the post-election process.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said earlier Wednesday he wants the unofficial tally of results in Georgia's record-setting general election to be completed as soon as possible.

"My team has sent reminders to counties to get all — I repeat, all — of our results counted today," he said. "Every legal vote will count."

But his exhortation to local officials in Fulton and other counties across the state could only superficially indicate the winner of the presidential election, the U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. David Perdue, and other races on the ballot.

There are still several steps in the state's timeline before counties must certify the election by Nov. 13, including the adjudication of absentee ballots not fully read by the scanner, curing of provisional ballots and those that were rejected for signature issues and the full count of military and overseas ballots.

There will also be a statewide risk-limiting audit of one race to be determined by Raffensperger's office that is designed to audit that the winner of the race is correct. After the counties certify their results, the state has a week to certify. After that, candidates who fall within a half-percent threshold could request a recount, where poll officials would re-scan every vote in that contest.

Still, Raffensperger (and the rest of the country) would like to see enough ballots counted that the remaining potential votes would not affect the outcome of the presidential race.

"If we don't get it [fully counted] but we get the numbers so small that then there's no question of who actually the winner is, that will be helpful to remove a lot of those questions that people have," he said.

Georgia is one of a handful of states remaining that will decide whether Biden or Trump is victorious, and with the potential for Perdue to fall below 50% of the vote once the final ballots are counted, could also see control of the U.S. Senate be decided by a Jan. 5 runoff election for both the state's seats.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Georgia and the Trump campaign sued Chatham County over its absentee process, alleging that a poll worker added in 53 late votes to the total of processed timely ballots.