ATLANTA – Advocates for both presidential candidates raced to find every person in Georgia who submitted a flawed ballot before time ran out Friday to fix the paperwork in a race that could be decided by the narrowest of margins.
Hours before the 5 p.m. deadline, Christin Clatterbuck and Sarah Meng joined about 20 other volunteers who planned to visit addresses in suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County in search of voters whose ballots were initially rejected but could be fixed with a signature or an ID.
Cam Ashling, a Democratic activist who organized the small effort, gave instructions and a pep talk. “Never has it ever been more true than now that every vote counts," she shouted beside a pickup truck with a bed full of snacks, water and a big bottle of hand sanitizer.
Clatterbuck and Meng drove through suburban neighborhoods in their small SUV. They walked past rose bushes to knock on the door of a home in Lilburn where they were looking for a 19-year-old voter. Her dad answered and promised to call her at college.
Other problem ballots were cast by people not listed on the voter rolls who needed to explain why. They had to correct, or “cure,” their ballots by the deadline for the votes to count.
No one knew how many flawed ballots needed to be fixed. Each of the state's 159 counties keeps its own tally.
At a second home, Clatterbuck and Meng did not find the voter, but a friend put her on the phone. She had failed to sign her ballot.
“As you know, it’s so, so, so important. Today by no seconds later than 5 o’clock,” Meng said, giving details on exactly what needed to be done.
Alex Upreti promised to help the friend fix her vote. Meng and Clatterbuck cheered.
The pair did not hit every home on the list. They decided to skip a house where an SUV in the driveway had a “Blue Lives Matter” sticker to show support for law enforcement in the face of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racial injustice. The sticker suggested the home could be occupied by someone who backed President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Over more than two hours, they knocked on 10 doors in all. Half of the voters said they had already corrected the problems. No one answered at three houses. The two later received additional addresses to check and set out again.
Counties are required to contact voters with problem ballots so they can be fixed. Both political parties also have those lists and were reaching out.
“The voters I had talked to, they had already been talked to by like four people,” said state Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat who went door to door Wednesday in DeKalb County.
Some volunteers tried to call voters with ballot problems.
“It’s definitely hit or miss like anything. Think about a telemarketer,” said Aklima Khondoker, the Georgia state director of All Voting is Local. “Typically for me, when a strange phone number comes up, I think it is spam.”
Cobb County Republican Party Chairman Jason Shepherd sent out a call Thursday for volunteers to help the state party, saying Republicans were trying to correct problems with provisional ballots. State GOP Political Director Joe Proenza referred comment to a Trump campaign spokesperson who did not respond to an email.
Democrat Joe Biden was leading President Donald Trump in Georgia by about 4,200 votes late Friday afternoon, but final results will not be known for days. Under Georgia law, a candidate can request a recount if the margin is less than one half of one percentage point. Biden's lead was less than a tenth of a percentage point.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Georgia because the race remains too early to call. The state’s 16 electoral votes could clinch the contest for Biden in his quest for the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.
The secretary of state’s office said several thousand absentee ballots were still being counted. Another 8,400 ballots sent to military and overseas voters could be counted if received by the Friday deadline. Counties also have provisional ballots to review.
Gabriel Sterling, who has overseen the implementation of Georgia’s new electronic voting system, said the state’s counties have been working diligently to finish tabulating results. He emphasized his confidence in the legitimacy of the process. Any evidence-backed complaint will be investigated, he added.
“When you have a narrow margin, little, small things can make a difference. So everything’s going to have to be investigated to protect the integrity of the vote,” Sterling said.
After each county certifies its vote total, the state will perform an audit before issuing its own certification. Counties must certify their results by Nov. 13, and the state must certify them by Nov. 20.
Associated Press writers Michael Warren and Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed.
Find AP’s full election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2020