An audit of the 2020 presidential election got underway in Bartow County around 1 p.m. Friday at the senior center on Beavers Drive.
“It will be a slow process getting started,” Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said. “We have to be done by Wednesday at midnight, I anticipate being done Monday or Tuesday.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered a statewide audit of the 2020 presidential election results on Wednesday morning. As of Friday evening, Associated Press projections gave Democratic challenger Joe Biden a roughy 14,000 vote lead over incumbent Republican Donald Trump.
Fourteen auditors, situated two to a table, checked out one container of ballots at a time. Each batch was recorded, along with the audit board it was assigned to and the time it was returned, on an inventory sheet.
“They have to agree on everything they do,” Kirk told the auditors. “If there is a question for me, you can hold up a sign with a red question mark on it.”
Kirk said numerous policies are in place to mitigate errors, noting that the auditors were pulled from the County's pool of poll workers and poll managers.
"Everything is done twice, so one person counts, the other person counts, one person says the candidate's name, the other person says the candidate's name," he said. "They both handle the ballot to make sure it's not more than one — so far, I have no reason to think this count's not happening correctly."
Among other specifications, the auditors were required to fill out forms with a vote total and the number of ballots sent to a vote review panel stationed at the far end of the senior center's event space.
“If there’s any ballots that need to be adjudicated, if voter intent has to be established, that will be their role to do,” Kirk said.
As for the auditing process itself, each table had five designated stacks: one for Trump ballots, one for Biden ballots, one for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen ballots, one for overvoted ballots and one for undervoted or blank ballots.
“The first round that you go through, you’re just separating things, you’re not going to count anything as you go,” Kirk said. “You cannot cut corners, you cannot find a better way to do it — this is the only way to do it.”
Each table also had three folders for duplicate ballots, ballots with write-ins and ballots with undetermined selections.
“We want to make sure that the voter’s intent is clear and unambiguous,” Kirk said. “If we can’t determine what the voter’s intent is, that’s probably an overvote and we just don’t count that vote from that race. If they vote for two candidates in one race, we can’t tell where they crossed one out, that vote just doesn’t count.”
Once auditors were finished with a batch, they held up signs with green checkmarks to notify election superintendents to collect their containers.
Several designated Democratic and Republican Party representatives were on hand to monitor the auditing process. After being sworn in, they were allowed to walk around the auditing tables. However, they were not allowed to take photographs or recordings of the auditing process, nor were they allowed to touch any of the ballots.
“Your role as an official monitor is not to verify our work, it’s not to check and make sure we’re putting the right names in the right stacks,” Kirk said. “It’s to observe what’s going on — if you think there’s an issue, please let me know.”
On Friday, Georgia Secretary of State Elections Division Director Chris Harvey sent out a directive allowing more credentialed monitors to be present for the risk-limiting audits.
"If election superintendents can safely allow more than the minimum number of designated political party monitors consistent with maintaining an orderly process, space limitations [and] social distancing/public health guidelines then you should," the memorandum reads.
Other onlookers were allowed to take audio and video recordings of the proceedings — albeit, with the caveat that they had to stay behind a cordoned-off public observation area.
The auditors worked exclusively with red ink pens — which Kirk said is undetectable by the scanners used as part of the State’s new paper-backed electronic voting system.
“That way, nobody can accuse us of trying to change votes,” he added.
As for security measures, Kirk said that the location was under video surveillance.
“There will be a deputy here watching the building after we’re gone,” he said, “and the alarm will be set if something was to happen.”
The first day of auditing concluded a little after 4 p.m. The process resumed Saturday morning around 8:30, this time with 16 auditors spaced out across eight tables.
"After the audit is complete, if the numbers come back different than what we've already certified, we'll have a new certification meeting to certify those numbers," Kirk said. "And then we'll prepare to start sending everything to the State — and if a candidate after the State certifies asks for a recount, we will be working towards that as well."
As of Saturday afternoon, Kirk said 17 different monitors — all representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties — had showed up at Bartow County's auditing site.
"There have been a lot of questions about procedure, how close can we stand," Kirk said. "This is a new thing for all of us, we're working through it and everyone's been very good to work with so far."
At Wednesday's press conference Raffensperger said counties would pay for the expenses of the State-ordered audit. As a rough estimate, Kirk said the audit is likely to cost Bartow County about $8,000.
As of midday Saturday, Kirk said the local auditing process was going smoother than anticipated.
"Everybody seems to take the procedures well, the monitors are getting a chance to observe, everybody seems to be doing very well," he said.
Kirk said he certainly expects to continue conducting risk-limiting audits once the hotly-contested 2020 presidential election comes to an end.
"This is an important step we have to start doing after every election," he said. "And the more we do it, the better at it we'll get and the more we'll have the procedures set in stone — there's a fine line between transparency and access and security and health right now. So we'll work that out more and more as we go."