By QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- The results of Georgia's first-ever risk-limiting audit, which entailed counties recounting by hand every vote cast in the presidential race, reaffirmed that President-elect Joe Biden is the victor in Georgia, according to the secretary of state.
"The audit confirmed the original result of the election, namely that Joe Biden won the Presidential Contest in the state of Georgia," the audit report plainly states.
It will be the first time since 1992, when then-candidate Bill Clinton's margin of victory was similarly close, that a Democrat will earn the Peach State's 16 electoral votes. Edison Research, the company ABC News uses to report votes, projected that Biden would win Georgia on Friday.
"The recount process simply reaffirmed what we already knew: Georgia voters selected Joe Biden to be their next president. We are grateful to the election officials, volunteers and workers for working overtime and under unprecedented circumstances to complete this recount, as the utmost form of public service," Jaclyn Rothenberg, the Biden campaign's Georgia communications director, said in a statement.
However, the Trump campaign said that Biden is not the winner, even though the audit report states he is, because Georgia hasn't certified its election results. The campaign also said Georgia shouldn't certify them.
"This so-called hand recount went exactly as we expected because Georgia simply recounted all of the illegal ballots that had been included in the total. We continue to demand that Georgia conduct an honest recount, which includes signature matching. We intend to pursue all legal options to ensure that only legal ballots are counted," Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis said in a statement.
Republican Brad Raffensperger, the state's top election official, has been under fire from members of his own party, who've made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, since before the full, by-hand recount of the presidential race was announced on Nov. 11. The state was always planning to conduct an audit on one contest following the general election, as is now required by law following the passage of a 2019 election reform bill, but it was up to Raffensperger to choose which race to audit, and he selected the presidential race because of its "national significance." Since the margin in the contest was so tight, the secretary, in consultation with audit experts assisting with the process, determined that the most efficient and accurate way to do the audit would be to hand count every one of the approximately 5 million votes cast in the race.
According to VotingWorks, the organization that helped implement the audit, it's the largest hand count of votes in U.S. history.
In the results of the audit, Biden's lead was 12,284 votes. The statewide variation of the machine-counted results and the hand counted results was 0.1053%. According to the report, prior research indicates that the expected variance between hand and machine counts is between 1% and 1.5%. No county has a variation greater than 0.73% and 103 out of 159 counties had variations less than 0.05%.
"Georgia's historic first statewide audit reaffirmed that the state's new secure paper ballot voting system accurately counted and reported results," Raffensperger said in a statement. "This is a credit to the hard work of our county and local elections officials who moved quickly to undertake and complete such a momentous task in a short period of time."
The deadline for Raffensperger to certify the general election results is 5 p.m. Friday, and the secretary's office has said the announcement of the certification's completion will likely come in a press release.
Since the margin of victory is still within 0.5% of total votes cast in the contest, the Trump campaign can request a recount. The recount would be conducted using high-capacity scanners and not be done by hand. Under state law, counties bear the costs associated with a recount.
The deadline to request a recount is 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Republicans, including the president, railed against the audit's process because it did not entail re-verifying the signatures accompanying the approximately 1.3 million returned absentee ballots.
"Thousands of uncounted votes discovered in Georgia counties. When the much more important signature match takes place, the State will flip Republican, and very quickly," Trump tweeted Thursday.
Looking at signatures again would still not take place as part of a recount. Absent a court order, or the presentation of "credible evidence to pursue on a specific issue," re-verifying signatures will not take place, according to Gabriel Sterling, the statewide voting system implementation manager in Raffensperger's office.
During the audit, election officials in four counties discovered uncounted votes that were not included in their originally reported results.
In Fayette, Walton and Douglas counties, election officials learned that memory cards -- just one in each county -- containing votes were erroneously not uploaded. In Fayette County, 2,755 votes were on the memory card; in Walton County, 284 votes were on the memory card; in Douglas County, 293 votes were on the memory card.
In Floyd County, election officials found a batch of ballots that had never been scanned at all, an error that Gabriel Sterling, the statewide voting system implementation manager, called an "amazing blunder." Raffensperger called on the county's chief clerk of elections, Robert Brady, to resign because of the mistake. On Thursday, the Floyd County Board of Election voted to fire Brady.
Sterling said Wednesday that the issue in Floyd was "a lot more dangerous" because unlike the memory card issue, "there wasn't a reconciliation process that was going to catch" the error in Floyd, so without this audit, there's a real possibility those votes never would have been found. If the other three counties had conducted their reconciliation process properly, the missing memory card would have been found.
He said that reinforcing the reconciliation process to county officials will be a priority looking toward the next election.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sterling, who has been the public face of the audit representing the secretary's office, said that he was "prayerful" that when the audit was completed, everyone -- regardless of party affiliation -- could trust the results.
"Everybody who's involved in this -- even the parties -- they need to have faith in the outcome of these elections, whether they win, or whether they lose, because that's the bedrock of how we have a transfer of power," he said.
ABC News' John Verhovek contributed reporting.
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