14 auditors split into seven teams of two began the manual recount of around 71,000 presidential ballots in Macon, Ga., Friday, part of the recount of about 5 million votes cast statewide that must end by midnight on Wednesday, November 18.

Fourteen auditors, split into seven teams of two, began the manual recount of around 71,000 presidential ballots in Macon on Friday, part of the recount of about 5 million votes cast statewide that must end by midnight on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPBNews

Georgia election officials expect to release the results of a statewide audit by noon Thursday, as a handful of counties finish data entry from a full hand recount of 5 million presidential votes.

Gabriel Sterling with the secretary of state's office said that at least 21 of 159 counties show their risk-limiting audit is still in process, including some of the large jurisdictions in metro Atlanta.

"We cannot do the full quality control process until all the data entry is in there," he said. "We will likely be having to use every minute of that midnight deadline."

Since Friday morning, thousands of workers across the state have counted each ballot to ensure that President-elect Joe Biden did narrowly defeat President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 contest in Georgia. While the RLA is designed to check the correct winner and not change the margins, four counties uncovered a few thousand votes that were not originally uploaded to the state's election results. 

Douglas County failed to include a memory card from an Election Day precinct that included 156 votes for  Biden, 128 votes for Trump, seven votes for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson and two ballots where no presidential selection was made. This brings the margin by which Biden leads Trump to 12,781, after Walton County discovered a memory card with 284 votes, Fayette tabulated 2,755 missing votes and Floyd had about 2,600 ballots that were never scanned.

President Trump and other top Republicans have suggested that Georgia's vote counting and risk-limiting audit is fraudulent, something Gabriel Sterling with the secretary of state's office said is a ridiculous notion.

"The irony of his saying 'fraudulent votes have been found' — he has gained in the finding of these votes," Sterling said. "So the system is working the way it is intended. And the frustrating situation overall ... if this was 14,000 votes the other way, I believe Biden supporters would be screaming that this was all inappropriate and not done correctly."

Sterling also addressed a Twitter thread from David Shafer, chair of the Georgia Republican Party, that seemed to suggest an error in DeKalb County almost gave Biden an extra 9,000 votes. The social media outlet flagged those tweets as disputed Wednesday afternoon.

During the audit, one batch of ballots was labeled as containing more than 10,000 votes when the total was more than 1,000, and an affidavit submitted by a Republican audit monitor said the final tally showed a difference of two votes instead.

"This is why we don't give out interim audit results, because it can be misleading to look at them because there will be human errors on this," Sterling said. "This was discovered on Sunday, the secretary's office was made aware of it since then and we all knew what had happened here." 

As of 4 p.m., 5 million ballots had been hand counted and the secretary of state's office says the process will finish on time.

The results of the risk-limiting audit and all of the accompanying documents will be posted publicly, and will not alter the county-certified totals. State officials said that since the audit is designed to check winners and not margins, the original vote totals showing Biden ahead will stand.

Those four counties that failed to tally all of their votes must recertify, and the state's deadline to sign off on the election results is Friday. While the deadline to complete the audit is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, state officials say they will not release results until Thursday after election staff gets some rest.

"We're running our audit teams into the ground right now," Sterling said.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign can still request a machine recount of election results after the state's certification, something that would take at least a week for some counties to complete.

The elections director in Fulton County, Georgia's most populous, told commissioners it could take up to 9 days to re-scan more than half a million ballots.