The Recounts of Recounts

First, having volunteered for a shift of “get out the vote” phone banking prior to the November 3rd election, I am now on a list of people who volunteered and showed up. This is as close to politicking as I’ve come outside of marching in anti-war protests in the 70’s.

Being on the list gives you ample options for putting shoulder to the cause, mostly from the safety of your home with phone banking or texting. 

When President Trump asked for the second recount, the call came via text and email for observers to represent the Democratic Party of Georgia again. When I saw that there was a slot open for the Cobb County recount, I volunteered. I thought you might find this process interesting so here’s how it worked. 

I immediately received a link to a virtual training session on Zoom. When I joined the appointed time I was greeted by a young man and woman who were the trainers. Together they laid out the goals: 

  • Monitor the county staff as they tabulate. 
  • Monitor the GOP observers and note whether they appeared to be intentionally slowing the process or causing disruption. We were instructed not to deal directly with the GOP observers rather, bring it to the attention of the election supervisor or director. 
  • Monitor the Vote Review Panel if it meets during our shift.
  • Overall, protect the voting rights of all people through observation. 

We also were alerted not to speak to the recount workers. 

Oh, and dress business casual and wear some blue for the party colors. 

With that, I filled out a form and then received an official PDF certifying me as a registered observer for the party. I printed that out and, as required, made my own name tag identifying me as an official observer for the Democratic Party of Georgia. I  took a pen and pad for note taking and Monday morning drove to the recount center at Jim Miller Park for my 9 a.m.-1 p.m. shift. 

It was the closest thing to going to work that I had experienced since January 1, 2019. 

Jim Miller Park is a huge facility which hosts the county fair and where the county built a very large meeting center in which the election team was working. Each meeting room was the size of a large airplane hanger, readied for large meetings of all kinds. For now, Halls B and C were reserved for election work, the majority of which was, surprisingly, not for the recount, but the preparation of mail-in ballots for distribution to voters. The recount team occupied one half of Hall C. The ceilings were 40 feet high and certainly helped airflow in the pandemic world.

I checked in, underwent COVID19 prescreening formalities including temperature check, then walked down the large, long hall to the recount room, through the door marked “Observers” and entered a cordoned off area. This was a limited access space with a dozen chairs reserved for both party affiliated observers and the public. I immediately met Wendy, Amy, Clement and Gail, the rest of my party’s shift of observers. After a brief discussion with them, I presented my credential to Janine Eveler, the director of elections for Cobb County. She took my letter and reviewed the rules: masks on at all times, no cell phones out of your pocket, maximum of three observers on the floor from each party at one time, no speaking to workers, maintain social distancing and direct all questions or concerns to her.

With that, I was on the floor, walking among the “re-recount,” carrying my notepad and figuring out what I was there to do quietly sharing details with my cohorts about what was the process.

I have since found out that according to the Associated Press, there have been 31 recounts in statewide elections since 2000. That’s 31 times in a little over 1,000 elections or 3%. So, I was experiencing very rare ground here in Ground Zero Georgia. Also notable, only three recounts, or 0.3% of the 1,000 elections, have changed the outcome of an election.

Understanding just how rare it is for a statewide recount and even rarer for two recounts, that this the first time in my life to do something like this, and, only on this one 4-hour shift, imagine my surprise when I recognized four people that I knew personally! Even through the masks! Two fellow golfers were GOP observers, one neighbor is a recount worker and one, Ross Cavitt, is the communications director for Cobb County. Ross and I worked together at Channel 2 where he was the reporter for our Cobb County Bureau. Who would a thunk it? Of all the gin joints…

That’s how I got there. Here’s what I observed.

GOP observer stands outside the ropes

Janine really knew her stuff. She was patient, fully engaged, answering, I’m sure, the same questions over and over again. I think that that is her life, especially right now. She gave quick, exacting explanation to what the workers were doing, say, in duplicating a ballot, or cleaning the scanners, or what was in the boxes on the rolling shelving and why are those two boxes labeled in green?

She said that approximately 394,000 people voted in the 2020 Presidential election in Cobb County and this group was recounting all of those votes by running the actual ballots through scanners.

According to Cobb County’s Election website, of those voting, 44% voted in person in advance, 38% voted by mail/absentee and only 18% voted  in person on Election Day.  

I learned that all of the election workers were being paid and that the expense of the recounts would be born by the counties and the state of Georgia. “It’s just the price of doing business,” she said. 

She described the process of the recount for me…

All of the ballots are contained in boxes from the county precincts and are categorized as to whether they were advanced, mail-in or election day voting. 

Each box is coded and sealed with special election tape. That tape has now been sealed, opened, and re-sealed with different colored tape with each recount. 

There were eight scanning stations with teams of three workers assigned to each scanner. They scan the ballots in batches of 50 or less. Each batch is coded with a number that matches it up to the actual scanner. They do this to minimize the number of ballots effected if there’s a failure in the scanning process requiring a fix and rescan.

Another team supported the scanning team by delivering the heavy boxes from the “in-bound” cart to them, one box at a time. Once the scanning process is complete, the batches checked off and returned to the box, the delivery team carries the scanned boxes to workers across the aisle who take the batches out of the box and enter the batch codes onto a form, by hand. They place that completed form on the top of the batches of ballots back inside of the box, re-seal it for the workers to place on the “out-bound” cart. When these carts filled up they were rolled across the room in a secure storage location. 

All of these workers continued their tasks in a precise, methodical, measured and consistent pace. Checking and rechecking. The occasional question was signaled by a raised hand to which Janine or the supervisor would attend. 

It was as quiet as a library. There was no idle chatter, no playfulness, just a straightforward orderly march to the finish line.

All the party observers had full access to walk amid the workers while keeping socially distant. 

The only issue that I witnessed was that a GOP observer was not properly wearing her mask by not covering her nose. Janine fixed that very directly. Cover it or leave. 

You don’t mess with Janine. She was there to protect her staff, and our votes. No BS. 

Before my shift was up I spoke with Janine one last time. I told her how much I appreciated the dedicated work by all in what was clearly a very important yet tedious task and that I had learned a lot just by being there. I asked her if there had been objections or criticism from the GOP side to which she replied, “No objections or criticism, just questions.” Also, there were no ballots that required the meeting of the Vote Review Panel

She added that they had experienced no problems, nothing inappropriate, fraudulent or irregular. Just the boring, dutiful, responsible counting of ballots. 

For the last time! We can all hope. 

Me, Janine hiding behind me, and Ross Cavitt, former Channel 2 reporter, now Cobb Co. communications director

This morning I logged on to a virtual “Georgia Recount Thank You” call with Jill Biden. She offered her profound thanks to the over 400 attendees for voting for Joe and Kamala and for joining in to protect the vote. She was especially moved that we did so in mid-pandemic. 

And now, amazingly, we have a chance to put two great Democratic candidates in the senate and replace two major Trump supporters. In case you missed it last post, here are links to ways you can contribute either time or money or both to turn Georgia Blue!

Georgia on my mind

I am back. Back from the swirl of the times. I know. I know. I slammed you with posts running up to and including Election Day and since then, crickets from me. I spared you the anxious writings as the six or so states continued to count and we continued to wait. Most of us, patiently. One individual in particular, not so much.   

North Carolina. Arizona. Nevada. Pennsylvania. Wisconsin. Michigan. And, who would have guessed it, Georgia. All hanging in the balance. All working hard to count the surge of absentee and mail-in voting caused by the Pandemic. 

Slowly, step by step, inch by inch, like a molasses drip, Arizona, Michigan  and Wisconsin were called for Biden by the afternoon on November 5th, giving him 264 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 214. That left both candidates with viable paths to victory, albeit a very narrow path for Trump. Biden just needed six electoral votes to get to the magic 270.

Still counting were North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada. And they counted and counted until one by one they fell. North Carolina went Trump.

On Saturday at 11:25 a.m., with enough of the vote count reported, AP called Pennsylvania with 20 Electoral votes for Biden. That was the show stopper. Driving Biden way past the 270 mark. That was the presidential race, Biden’s victory and Trump’s defeat. Fittingly, Biden ultimately carded the same number of electoral votes as Trump had garnered in 2016, a victory that then President-Elect Trump had self-proclaimed to be a “massive landslide victory” and contended that the size of his victory was historic. It wasn’t. That was typical Trump hyperbole substituting his fantasy for facts. Here’s a fact from real history: of the last 58 presidential elections, 37 were won with more Electoral votes than Trump’s. It wasn’t massive. It wasn’t historic. But, it was surprising.

Biden’s victory, on the other hand, was historic on multiple levels:

  • Biden ran with an Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris will be America’s first woman, first woman of color and South Asian heritage to be chosen for national office.
  • Biden/Harris received the most votes for any presidential candidate in U.S. history.
  • Biden became only the tenth U.S. presidential candidate to defeat an incumbent president making Trump only the tenth incumbent to lose his re-election bid. Trump also made history by receiving the most votes for a losing candidate. 

Immediately following the news that Biden had won, people all over the country and the world took to the streets, in mass and in masks. They sang. They danced, waved flags, clapped and generally and politely just went happy. Outside of the U.S. people were saying, “Welcome back America! We’ve missed you.”

That day I was playing in a golf event with phone on silent when I noticed that Julie had texted that Biden had won. I didn’t jump up and down, hoot nor holler. One of my partners was a Trump supporter. I learned long ago in sports and life not to rub victory in the face of the loser. I held my joy and relief inside but quietly signaled the news to my other partner who shares my political view. My heart swelled up and a smile spread across my face before it was my turn to tee off on the next hole. I tried to focus on the difficult drive on the hole in front of me, but the news danced across my brain as I started my swing. I promptly duck-hooked it into the creek coursing down the left side. 

I laughed as I thought, “Who cares where that ball went. Biden did it. We fired Donald Trump!”

That was my quiet celebration of the moment. 

Still you heard nothing on “Life of Riley.” Not a chirp. Not one word clap. As the days passed, I even got a few emails and text messages from some of you saying, “Hey! Did I miss something? Where’s the election results blog?” 

Honestly, I didn’t know where to start. There were too many issues and aspects on which I could and wanted to comment. Trump’s continuing stream of virulent conspiracy claims turns weirder and weirder as the days go on. His voting fraud, cheating, scamming, dead voters voting, documents shredded, election stolen whine-fest has defined the non-concession Trump defeat. 

Georgia – Ground Zero

And, since you have to start somewhere, I decided to focus first on right here and now in Georgia. 

As the old Hoagy Carmichael song goes, “Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through,” all the talk is about Georgia for two reasons. First, all are still awaiting the results of the second recount of the Georgia presidential election to see if it falls in line with the initial election count and subsequent hand count showing the state turned blue for Biden. The first two counts showed Biden winning by just under 13,000 votes. Watch this Georgia website for the numbers as the counties report. Currently at 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, December 2nd, Biden leads Trump by 27,411 in reported votes.

Right now, Rudy Giuliani is in Atlanta talking to lawmakers about the Georgia election’s integrity. Appearing for Trump, he’s asking the Georgia legislature to overturn the election and select its own electors.

Second, our special election for the two Georgia U.S. Senate seats in January will decide if Mitch McConnell holds on to his stranglehold over the Senate or if a Democratic victory creates a pathway to bipartisanship. 

What’s on the line? Nothing but saving the American people from COVID19 and the U.S. economy at the same time. That requires a willing Congress which we will never have as long as McConnell has his foot on our necks. Even if you’re a Republican, electing these two Democrats will even out the Senate in a way that will make bipartisanship possible again. Democrats won’t be able to strangle the Senate as Mitch has for far too long. 

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock run to replace Republican Senators David Purdue and the appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler.

That’s where my mind and efforts are directed between now and January 5th lending my full support to Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for Senate. I hope that you will do the same. Join me. Even if you don’t live in Georgia. Donate to the Democratic cause. Give of some of your time to get out the vote. Make calls, send texts. Volunteer. You better believe that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are bringing in money and horses from out of state to support Loeffler and Purdue. Karl Rove (see “Karl Rove, GOP building money machine for Georgia runoffs”)  is moving in to lead the GOP charge. 

We need all of the help that we can muster. Here are a few websites that will help you DO something for the cause.

Stay tuned tomorrow for what I saw as a registered observer of the Georgia recount in Cobb County, my home county and Georgia’s fourth largest county by population with almost 698,000 residents.   

As always, thanks for reading. I welcome your comments. You can post them on the site or send to me.