An audit of US presidential election results in Georgia will trigger a full hand recount, state officials have announced.
Secretary of state Brad Raffensperger said at a news conference on Wednesday that his office wants the process to begin by the end of the week and he expects it to take until November 20.
After results from the hand recount are certified, the losing campaign can then request another recount, which will be performed by machine, Mr Raffensperger said.
President-elect Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by about 14,000 votes out of nearly five million that have been counted in the state. Nearly all ballots have been counted, though counties have until Friday to certify their results.
Once county certification is complete and before the state certifies the results, the count must be audited. It is up to Mr Raffensperger to choose which race to audit.
Mr Raffensperger chose to audit the presidential race and said the tight margin means that the audit will result in a full hand recount.
Asked if he chose the presidential race because of the Trump campaign’s call for a hand recount, Mr Raffensperger said: “No, we’re doing this because it’s really what makes the most sense with the national significance of this race and the closeness of this race.”
Mr Raffensperger said the process will have “plenty of oversight”, with both parties having the opportunity to observe.
The audit is a new requirement put in place by a law passed in 2019 that also provided for new voting machines purchased last year.
The state has chosen to do a risk-limiting audit, in which a random sample of ballots or receipts generated by voting machines are checked against results produced by vote-tallying equipment for accuracy.
For the hand recount, election officers will work with the paper ballots in batches, dividing them into piles for each candidate. Then they will run the piles through machines to count the number of ballots for each candidate. The scanners will not read the data on the ballots, simply count them.
There is no mandatory recount law in Georgia, but state law provides that option to a trailing candidate if the margin is less than 0.5 per cent. Mr Biden’s lead stood at 0.28 per cent on Wednesday.
Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican who’s leading Mr Trump’s legal efforts in the state, called the upcoming hand recount a “first step”.
“This is a victory for integrity,” Mr Collins said. “This is a victory for transparency.”
Meanwhile, Mr Trump won Alaska on Wednesday, taking the state’s three electoral college votes.
Mr Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election on Saturday, having passed the mark of 270 electoral college votes required for victory.