This story was updated Monday, Nov. 16.

SAVANNAH – The hand recount of votes was 99 percent complete for Chatham County late Sunday.

All that remains is data entry, administrative work and a small amount of ballots that will be adjudicated Monday, well before the Georgia Secretary of State’s deadline of Wednesday for a hand recount of the ballots cast for President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden in the race to be the 46th president of the United States.

Billy Wooten, right side behind table, helps two workers at a table where ballots had been counted. Wooten was in charge of the audit operations for Chatham County. (Laura Corley/The Current)

“I think we overestimated the complexity of this process,” said Billy Wooten, who led the recount for the county. More than 133,000 votes were cast for president in Chatham County.

Across Georgia officials in all 159 counties are counting ballots for the presidential election as part of an audit procedure ordered by the secretary of state after Biden was projected to win the state by approximately 14,000 votes. Trump and his supporters have alleged, without any evidence, that the vote in Georgia was rife with fraud.

As of Sunday evening, the Chatham Board of Elections had not released any numbers from the audit process. According to the certified results of the machine-counted votes, Biden won the county, the sixth-largest in the state, by nearly 19 percentage points. 

Trump supporters rally at site

Patricia Boyd and Hope Holman were visibly tired as they left the warehouse in Midtown Savannah where for three days they had been recounting ballots. They were among dozens of election workers who had been working since Friday to finish the job. 

The process was mostly orderly except for Saturday afternoon, when a crowd of about 50 supporters of President Trump convened in front of the warehouse. They marched and chanted “Stop the steal.” 

About 50 Trump supporters gathered outside the counting location on Saturday singing. They marched around the building chanting “Stop the steal.” (Laura Corley/The Current)

The size of the gathering prompted a pair of Savannah police officers to add reinforcements to the pair of sheriff’s deputies at the scene.  

“I want everybody’s vote to count,” Boyd said. “That’s why we’re here. We want democracy. We just want to count our votes and let it be. Whoever’s going to win is going to win. We can’t change anything.”

The crowd marched around the warehouse several times chanting, “Stop the steal.” 

Many carried large flags or hand-written signs. One woman’s read: “IF WE LET THEM STEAL THIS ONE WE WILL NEVER HAVE ANOTHER FAIR ONE.”

One man in the group started harassing vote counters as they walked from the warehouse to their cars to take a lunch break.

“They were telling us about, ‘Don’t go in there and steal votes.’ That kind of stuff,” Boyd said.

 “But we just didn’t pay them any attention because the police was out here and escorted us back and forth between our cars.”

Boyd said she was unfazed by the man’s remarks. But she said others might be. “If you intimidate easy, then you were intimidated.”

“Other than that, they really were peaceful,” she said. “They were praying and saying what they wanted to say.”

A caravan of trucks, all bearing out-of-state license plates and oversized Trump flags, was parked near the crowd, which gathered in front of an RV that had “TRUMP GIRLS” emblazoned on its front windshield.

When the marching finished, a man wearing a red MAGA hat took to a megaphone and delivered a sermon before leading a prayer.

“No matter what happens in this election, we can always count on God,” he said. “Many things have happened before, not only in this country but in this world, that are way worse than what’s going on today. And we survived. Our beliefs are thriving whether you believe it or not.” 

The crowd then sang the National Anthem and posed for a group photo, smiling to “MAGA” instead of “cheese.”

Wooten said he heard about one or more people confronting vote counters in the parking lot. 

“We really hate that,” he said. “I wish that hadn’t have happened.” 

Observers for the process

TJ Burrison signs in to observe the count for Chatham County Republican Party. Burrison, who owns an appliance repair shop, worked Saturday at the annex. (Laura Corley/The Current)

TJ Burrison, a Chatham County resident and Republican Party supporter, observed the recount process Saturday. He said he wanted to make sure the election is fair. 

“It’s best to make sure everybody gets their vote counted so there’s no in between regardless of who wins,” Burrison said. “Hopefully, everybody just keeps it together, we all count the ballots fair and square and we get done with this because everyone wants to move on.”

Asked if he learned anything new or surprising from observing, Burrison, an entrepreneur, said, “Yeah. People are terrible at counting.”

The estimated cost for the hand recount is $60,000, Wooten said.

Twitter and lawsuits

As the sun was rising on the Coast of Georgia on Sunday, the president alleged in a Tweet that the recount was “a scam” and the recount efforts “means nothing.”

So far, the Trump Campaign and supporters have filed three elections-related lawsuits in Georgia since Election Day. All have been dismissed in court. 

The most recent lawsuit was filed Friday by Atlanta attorney and Trump supporter Lin Wood. Wood previously represented Richard Jewell, the police officer mistakenly suspected of planting the bomb at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics.

The lawsuit challenges the outcome of an earlier lawsuit settled in March between Republican state leaders and the Democratic Party of Georgia. Woods challenges that agreement which ensures uniform standards for matching signatures on absentee ballots.

Wood finds harm in the settlement. 

“Light must shine on deals made in dark rooms. Deals intended to subvert will of We The People,” Wood wrote in a Tweet on Sunday. 

Marc Elias, post-election counsel to the Joe Biden for President Campaign, said the timing of Wood’s lawsuit, filed 10 days after the election instead of in the weeks or months following the settlement, shows a lack of merit.

“At no point was there ever any suggestion that this settlement was anything other than going to provide counties with good, clear guidance on how to perform an essential function,” Elias said on conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon.

The day after the election, The Trump Campaign and the Republican Party of Georgia sued the Chatham County Board of Elections after two observers, Jackson Carter, of Gainesville, and Sean Pumphrey, from South Carolina, alleged they witnessed the mishandling of 53 absentee ballots. The judge found no evidence of wrongdoing and dismissed the lawsuit in one sentence.

  • Judge denies Georgia GOP lawsuit over absentee ballots

The third lawsuit was filed Nov. 11 by Rebecca Brooks, a stay-at-home mother and health coach from Effingham County; Stewart Abel III, a developer from Bryan County; James Martin, a stay-at-home father from Liberty County; and Nicole Martin of Liberty County. They were represented by Terre Haute, Indiana, lawyers affiliated with an organization called True the Vote Inc..

The federal lawsuit sought to throw out votes for president in eight counties including Chatham, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Richmond. The counties are some of the state’s most populous and all overwhelmingly voted for Joe Biden for President. It alleged unsupported allegations of conspiracy and widespread fraud.

The Validate the Vote initiative of True the Vote has filed multiple lawsuits across the country since the election in states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. True the Vote is based in Houston, Texas. The Democrats filed a motion to dismiss on Nov. 13. The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs on Monday.

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Laura Corley is home-brewed investigative reporter who has covered public safety and government and education in her home state of Georgia since 2014. At The (Macon) Telegraph, Laura used open records...