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In Georgia, the state government must "certify" the election results before the parties can request a recount.

What does it mean to recount after certification is complete, and why is that materially different from recounting before (were the laws to allow a recount before)? All of the sources I have found so far talk about the laws requiring certification before recounting, but I haven't found anything as to why that order of operations was put in place.

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In Georgia recounts can occur in two ways:

  • An election official or the Georgia Secretary of State might request an audit or recount before certification, if there is some reason to suspect inaccuracies in the results.
  • A candidate or party may request a recount after certification, if it wants to dispute the results.

If a recount were to change the outcome of the election, then Georgia law authorizes the Secretary of State and relevant election officials to void the previous certification and paperwork and recertify the election.

Generally speaking, it would make no sense for a candidate or party to request a recount before the results are certified: certification determines the outcome, and neither party has lost or won until certification occurs. It would also make no sense for Georgia officials to request a recount after certification: certification means that Georgia officials have already done their due diligence, and produced what they believe to be the correct results.

In this election cycle a recount is apparently going to happen twice, first because the chief Georgia election official requested one immediately after the votes were tallied (in an overabundance of caution, I suppose), and second because the Trump administration requested one, despite the fact that the first recount did not change the outcome.

See: Georgia election recount laws and Georgia election legal code

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    Note that what Georgia just finished doing was an audit, not a recount. Georgia election law calls for hand-auditing one race after any given election to confirm that the voting machines are working, and in this election, the Secretary of State chose to audit the presidential race. – Mark 2 days ago
  • @Mark: Technically both happened. The Secretary of State ordered a forensic audit, and the election commisioner order a hand 'really' which is effectively a recount. – Ted Wrigley 2 days ago
  • @Mark Let's say with CNN (as quoted by Fizz) that what's already been done was legally an audit which was defacto a recount. – Peter - Reinstate Monica 2 days ago
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According to CNN, ironically, a party-requested recount in Georgia is faster and less involved than the audit that has already taken place:

"Because the margin is still less than 0.5%, the President can request a recount after certification of the results. That recount will be conducted by rescanning all paper ballots," Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had said in a statement on Friday after a state audit of the presidential results had been completed.

[...]

Georgia already conducted an audit of the presidential ballots, meaning all ballots in the presidential race were counted a second time -- which was a defacto recount. The audit was more rigorous than the recount will be as the audit was a hand recount of every ballot, whereas the new recount will be done by a machine rescan.

The Trump campaign has apparently also requested that ballot signatures be re-verified during this (2nd, nominal) recount, but apparently that signature re-verification is not going to happen:

Under Georgia law, the Trump campaign had two business days from Friday's certification to request the recount, which will be taxpayer-funded. "Today, the Trump campaign filed a petition for recount in Georgia. We are focused on ensuring that every aspect of Georgia State Law and the U.S. Constitution are followed so that every legal vote is counted. President Trump and his campaign continue to insist on an honest recount in Georgia, which has to include signature matching and other vital safeguards," the Trump campaign said in a statement.

[...]

Signature matching for mail-in ballots is not done in recounts, however, according to campaign law expert Jonathan Diaz, a CNN contributor. Comparing of signatures on envelopes of mail-in ballots to those on file is done earlier in the process. The Trump campaign was upset more ballots were not thrown out because of signature issues.

NPR likewise headlined

Trump Requests Georgia Recount, Meaning 5 Million Votes Will Be Tabulated A 3rd Time

[...]

While thousands of workers spent most of the last week hand-counting every vote as part of a newly required statewide risk-limiting audit, this recount will be different.

The law calls for a recount to be conducted by retabulating every ballot through a scanner, the same way they were originally counted in the days following the Nov. 3 election.

[...] In a statement announcing the recount, the Trump campaign demanded that it include signature matching of absentee ballots, despite repeated explanations from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office that fulfilling such a request is illegal and impossible.

Raffensperger said in a op-ed that signatures (too) were already verified twice.

As to the legal distinction between the recount and the audit:

The recount will be done using scanners that read and tabulate the votes. County election workers have already done a complete hand recount of all the votes cast in the presidential race. But that stemmed from a mandatory audit requirement and isn’t considered an official recount under the law.

State law requires that one race be audited by hand to ensure that the machines counted the ballots accurately, and Raffensperger selected the presidential race. Because of the tight margin in that race, a full hand count of ballots was necessary to complete the audit, he said.

Had the (selected) race been not that close,

only a smaller sample of ballots would have had to be hand-counted

in the audit.

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    Even if it were legal to also re-check the signatures it would not be possible to throw out the votes corresponding to invalid signatures: They have, for good reason in a secret election, been irretrievably separated from the voting sheet. This is what the relatively complicated nested ballot envelopes are for. – Peter - Reinstate Monica 2 days ago
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Speaking generally, as I do not have specific knowledge of Georgia's election law, a recount request typically requires the margin of victory to be smaller than a certain threshold. It hardly makes sense for this to be judged on the basis of unofficial figures.

There is of course the possibility to designate the initially certified figures as "preliminary," but that is merely a question of terminology. That question aside, the process is first to arrive at a set of official figures, second to provide an opportunity, probably with a deadline, for recount requests, and third for the official figures to become final, whether with or without a recount.

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