Trump campaign forces Georgia taxpayers to pay for second recount after first one confirms its loss

A hand recount of nearly 5 million votes confirmed Biden's win, but Team Trump wants to milk taxpayers even more

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published November 23, 2020 2:59PM (EST)

Donald Trump (Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Getty Images)

Georgia will count its votes again after President Donald Trump requested a machine recount following a hand recount which confirmed he lost his election in the state by more than 12,000 votes.

Thousands of Georgia election workers spent last week recounting nearly 5 million votes by hand, finding that the original count showing President-elect Joe Biden winning the state by more than 12,000 votes was correct within 0.1%. Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, certified the vote on Friday after the recount finished within 500 votes of the initial machine count. But the Trump campaign, which has waged a legal crusade based on outright lies and conspiracy theories aiming to overturn the results of the election, said it wants the votes counted for the third time.

"Today, the Trump campaign filed a petition for recount in Georgia," it said in a statement. "We are focused on ensuring that every aspect of Georgia state law and the U.S. Constitution are followed so that every legal vote is counted."

The first recount was part of a new mandatory risk-limiting audit, which is not considered an official recount by the state. State law allows a candidate to seek an official machine recount within two days of the certification if the margin is less than 0.5%. The final margin in the race was 0.26%. The recount is expected to begin next week, though it is unclear how long it will take to complete, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While the Trump campaign was forced to pay millions for a recount in heavily Democratic areas of Wisconsin with large Black populations, Georgia state law does not require candidates to cover the cost, meaning taxpayers will have to foot the bill for another recount which has little chance of affecting the outcome. Unlike the hand recount, the machine recount will "pose greater logistical and financial challenges to county election officials," The Washington Post noted.

The campaign's call for another recount came after Raffensperger repeatedly hit back at Trump's baseless conspiracy theories about the recount. "Numbers don't lie," he said after certifying the votes.

The Trump campaign has pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about the state's signature matching requirement. County officials verify signatures on the ballot envelope when they receive ballots, but afterward, it is impossible to match ballots back to voters because of privacy protections in the state constitution.

"President Trump and his campaign continue to insist on an honest recount in Georgia, which has to include signature matching and other vital safeguards. Without signature matching, this recount would be a sham and again allow for illegal votes to be counted. If there is no signature matching, this would be as phony as the initial vote count and recount," the campaign baselessly claimed. "Let's stop giving the people false results. There must be a time when we stop counting illegal ballots. Hopefully it is coming soon."

But Raffensperger has repeatedly explained that the state has actually strengthened its signature match requirement, noting that signatures for absentee ballots are matched by election workers not once but twice.

"That's just another red herring that has been thrown out there by a campaign that doesn't have the votes in this state," Raffensperger told WSB-TV, "and apparently other states."

The Biden campaign said it was confident that another recount "will simply reaffirm Joe Biden's victory in Georgia a third time."

"As the secretary of state said, there is no reason to believe there are widespread errors or fraud and the Trump campaign has no evidence to back up their baseless claims," spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said in a statement. "With regards to signature matching, both parties were aware of the rules set forth months before the election and all signatures have already been matched."

Raffensperger has repeatedly said he preferred Trump to win but would not do anything to reverse the decision of the state's voters despite attacks from Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and an alleged attempt by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. to persuade the state to toss legal ballots to swing the election to Trump.

"I've been saying that half of America will be happy and half of America will be sad with these results," Raffensperger told Georgia Public Broadcasting last week. "And I would be disappointed when I put on my Republican hat, but these will be the results and it will be what it is because that is the will of the Georgia voter."

Kemp has avoided criticizing Raffensperger, though he appeared to echo Trump's attempts to sow doubt in the result on Friday. The governor urged the secretary of state to randomly select ballots to match signatures, even though it would violate the state constitution.

"The Georgians I have heard from are extremely concerned about this, so I encourage Secretary Raffensperger to consider addressing these concerns," Kemp said even as he certified the result. "It seems simple enough to conduct a sample audit of signatures on the absentee ballot envelopes and compare those to the signatures on applications and on file at the secretary of state's Office."

Raffensperger has not said whether his office would consider such a plan, but Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting system manager, pleaded for Trump to drop his election challenge in a press conference last week.

"Look, you've already got a hand recount," he said. "Nothing changed. Let's not do that."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Brad Raffensperger Brian Kemp Donald Trump Elections Georgia Joe Biden Politics Republicans