Jan 5, 2021
Georgia Secretary of State Office Press Conference Transcript January 5: Senate Runoff Election
Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling held a press conference on January 5 to address the Senate runoff election. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.
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Gabriel Sterling: (00:00)
All right. Good afternoon. I’m going to do a quick update of where we stand on a couple of these things. For the two of you that were here earlier, I’m going to go over some of the numbers we had before. And so we have the outward bounds of where we stand right now. When we got here this morning, the counties that received and accepted 1,018,382 absentee by mail ballots, and early vote credit for voting we had received is 2,074,994. That gets us to a total of 3,093,376 votes that are in the bank, ready to go. The one thing I could tell you about that is it means we are standing here today with a record turnout for a runoff. So out of the gate, we have that.
Gabriel Sterling: (01:00)
Now, let’s move… I’m going to come back to the military and overseas in a moment because it’s in the computer. I’ll get through what we have on that sheet right now. Let’s move to our equipment questions. We went over what happened in Columbia County this morning. There was L&A done, but like I said, it might have been incomplete logic and accuracy testing. So some precincts were fine. I think that 26 of, I believe, 46 that were affected by not having what they call an I button, which a small magnetic key that allows you to turn on the ICP, which is the point and play scanner, so you can open the polling location for scanning. They couldn’t do that. So if they couldn’t get the poll worker cards to work as well, then they use the emergency ballots, put those into the emergency bin, so voting never stopped in these locations.
Gabriel Sterling: (01:47)
But because of that potential issue slowed down, they have gone to court for two precincts, two polling locations for extensions. I almost laugh when I say this, they’re going to extend one from 7:00 to 7:01, and then do another one from 7:00 to 7:04. The only other court order extension we have, we don’t have a reason for it yet is one in Tiff County for 7:40. We anticipate a couple of other ones that might’ve opened up late, but we don’t have specifics on that yet.
Gabriel Sterling: (02:14)
There was a rumor of an issue in Gilmer County where they had to ask the people in the courthouse to evacuate for a moment. We were unclear to what that was about, and that there was a domestic dispute in the atrium area I believe, and it resolved relatively quickly. It had nothing to do with the election, had nothing to do with the other threats we’ve heard about for the last couple of days.
Gabriel Sterling: (02:35)
We also have a fake report, a power outages in Cobb County. We are in close conjunction with both the EMCs and Georgia Power. There are no power outages currently in George that we’re aware of. There was a rumor of one in Cobb. It’s not true.
Gabriel Sterling: (02:49)
Actual equipment issues we’ve seen today. We’ve had to swap out three ICPs. Those are the polling place scanners. Two because of a jam, one just wasn’t scanning properly. The two with a jam, one was in Douglas, one was in Paulding, and the final one that wasn’t scanning properly was in Oconee. Of the deployed scanners, that’s 0.1%. Then for the touchscreens, we’ve seen on BMDs, we had to replace one in Tattnall and four in Dekalb, and one in Floyd. The power supply wasn’t working properly. So that’s four out of about 27,000, so that gets us to 0.02% of the touchscreens had to be replaced.
Gabriel Sterling: (03:29)
Let’s see. Now, on the military ballots… Sorry, I keep hanging up on people on your phone, Walter. I wanted to give you all the details of that. And what we’re trying to do is get to a point where we know exactly what the outward bounds of all the potential ballots are going to be, relatively quickly by tomorrow. That includes all the new absentees and everything, except the military ones, which of course, if they are postmarked by today, they can be received by Friday. So bear with me one sec while I reopen this. My computer won’t work. Here we go.
Gabriel Sterling: (04:02)
All right. We have a total of 27,942 UACAVA, which are the military and permanent and temporary overseas voters that are out there. Now, I’m going to break this down to two subcategories. Of the military, there were 14,260 requests. Of the temporary and permanently overseas, there were 13,682. So far accepted on the military, we have had 4,748 accepted, and of the overseas, permanent or temporary, we had 6,172 accepted. So that means the remaining potentials for those overseas and military are as follows: for the military, there are 9,512 that still could be coming in by Friday, and for the temporary overseas, that could be 7,510. It gets us to a total of 17,022 that could still be coming in. Let me re-explain for those who remember here from two months ago, that is the if all of them came in. Let me tell you right now, not all of them are going to come in. We know that because they never all come back in, and that is the outward bound we can see for that.
Gabriel Sterling: (05:13)
We have put out instructions and working with the counties, to have a quickly follow the SEB rule we had that they had to begin scanning last week on Monday. The counties followed that rule. The majority of them have caught up to what they had through today. So they could still accept the ballots through today, they can empty the drop boxes. They can get their mail today, but those still have to be signature matched everything. But guess what? There’s an election today. So they’re going to have until tomorrow morning at noon. We’re asking to please get it all in. I anticipate many of them will make it, some of them may not make it all the way through, just because of the volume. And again, as we’ve said repeatedly, these elections workers and county workers has been beaten into the ground or worked into the ground. They’re exhausted, so they’re trying to do the best they can with some of these things.
Gabriel Sterling: (05:54)
Hopefully we will have those answers relatively quickly. Fulton specifically had 98,000 that had been brought in and they had gotten through 92,000 last night. They had to still do signature verification on the other 6,000. I know they worked through last night and part of this morning, so I don’t know how far they’ve gotten. They’re the largest load, obviously, of those that are out there. So we feel really good that the counties are doing a good job of catching up on this, doing signature verification in public. And we put out official election bullets reminding them they have to do the signature verification in public, reminding them of they have to do the ballot processing in public.
Gabriel Sterling: (06:35)
With that, I will take any questions you all might have.
Speaker 2: (06:40)
Gabriel Sterling: (06:40)
We’ll get it adjusted for you. Sorry.
Speaker 3: (06:43)
You were planning for a million people to turn out today. Any indication what that turnout is looking like?
Gabriel Sterling: (06:49)
It is a subset of a million. The problem is despite what you might’ve read, our systems aren’t hooked to the internet, so we do not know how people have come in. So it’s anecdotal evidence that we receive. And there’s a difference now between we’re used to lines, meaning there’s lots of people, but we’ve actually got relatively efficient with putting people through our processes. So if there’s not lines, it doesn’t mean there’s not a high turnout. It just means they’re processing people.
Gabriel Sterling: (07:11)
We do have some lines in some specific areas. In Bonaire in Houston County, there was an hour at lunch. They had a lunchtime rush that came in. We’ve seen some in Woodstock, was about an hour. In Paulding County it was about an hour. In Cobb County we’re seeing 20 to 30-minute lines. In Dekalb this morning we saw some 20-minute lines, but those seem to have abated. But again, this is mainly anecdotal. We do not have specific ways to get this, so we get are information the same way y’all would, from your friends texting you. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 2: (07:40)
Gabriel Sterling: (07:41)
Speaker 2: (07:41)
Just to clarify that you anticipate about a million people to turn out on election day, is that what you think?
Gabriel Sterling: (07:49)
Some people said that. I said, I hope we had a good, healthy turnout. I mean, we could see as low as 600,000. We could see as high as 1.1. We just have no way of knowing. I mean, we’ve already blown out the turnout record. So no matter what we do, it’s going to be a success, so we feel good about that. We would love to see a million people vote, because that means that we will really more than doubled the amount of vote we would have seen in a regular… The previous runoff record was 2.1 million. And that was the Saxby Chambliss runoff in… Don’t make me do math. I think it was 2004. So if we did this, we’d be at 4 million or so, which is almost double that.
Speaker 2: (08:25)
You don’t think this is implying the fact that you guys are having such a short wait times in most of these polling stations, you don’t see that as a sign of low turnout on election day?
Gabriel Sterling: (08:33)
It may or may not be, because we’re trying to learn this new system and get used to what those kinds of things mean because we are more efficient at getting people through the lines now than we were previously. Because remember, we’ve eliminated a step. They don’t have to fill out certificates, which is generally speaking, the longest particular thing. The only choke points we’ve seen are at check-in and potentially at the scanners. And if a poll manager is managing their poll location correctly, you should really only have them at the scanners because they could watch and see if there’s one coming up at the… I’m sorry. At the check-in spot, because they can watch and see at the scanners, if there’s a line building up, they can say, “Hold on for a second. Now let people through.” So that could be part of the reason you have a line.
Gabriel Sterling: (09:13)
So that could mean there is heavy turnout there, but just because there’s not heavy turnout, as an example, I had a friend who voted at 7:30 this morning at a Roswell location. She came out and she was voter number 35 at 7:30, which means they were average in one person a minute. That’s pretty efficient and they’re doing a pretty good job of getting people through. That’s the morning rush, it’s going to slow down again. We usually see there’s a rush in the morning, slows down that 10:00, 11:00 hour, people go on lunch break, it picks back up again until about 1:00, then it rolls back down again. People start leaving work around 4:00 and it starts kicking back up again. So we have no way of knowing what voter behavior is going to be on this one.
Gabriel Sterling: (09:48)
We do know that there are several of our large counties that had already reached over 80% of their turnout for the November election. Fulton, Dekalb being the two largest ones that did that. But again, we don’t know what voter behavior is going to show on this. We hope people will go out and vote. And again, we want to reiterate, don’t self-suppress your vote if you feel like it’s not going to count. If you care about who wins these elections, one way or the other, please turn out and vote. As you’ve seen, we have relatively short lines in most places so that it should be easy for you. Who else? Hey, Mark.
You talk about wait times and turnout. They’re kind of connected. Your line management tool, I believe is showing one minute waits. One point of confusion is, I’m getting the question, “Well, if you know how long the line is, why don’t you know what the turnout is?” Can you explain how those systems work?
Gabriel Sterling: (10:37)
Well, the line management on this particular case too, is not as robust as it was in the November general election. We do not have as many techs who we can control and say, “Hey, do this.” We’re still sort of in a test module, to kind of see how this all works. What it is, is there’s an app with a human being, who’s walking around going and to ask the poll manager, “How long is the wait?” “About 10 minutes.” Okay, they’re putting it in, or they’re giving a person, you take this note and they make note of the time. When they get there, they make note of the time again, and then they put in that’s how much time. It has nothing to do with the check-ins on the machines themselves. Because as we’ve made clear, they’re not connected to the internet, so we can’t know turnout at the same time. They’re two separate and apart systems. Yes.
I have two questions. Carol [inaudible 00:11:18], CNN. First-
Gabriel Sterling: (11:20)
What, you got two people in the room?
Gabriel Sterling: (11:20)
Is that fair? What do you think, it’s your hometown or something?
Can you give us the latest number of outstanding absentee ballots?
Gabriel Sterling: (11:32)
I can, actually. But while I’m looking it up, I’ll take another question.
Okay, the other question was, do you guys definitely plan on counting tomorrow?
Gabriel Sterling: (11:42)
Remember, the counties count, but [crosstalk 00:11:46] we anticipate the results to continue to come in, especially on the absentee by mail that came in today. So we know the outward bound of that. That’s what I was trying to say, we’re trying to get them, check them all in, so we all know what the final number is, because we saw confusion based on that because people didn’t understand, “There are people are still voting.” No, they’re just finally getting around to getting the signature match and making sure, yes, it’s an accepted ballot, and they have time to do that. So bear with me a moment while I opened one of the 9,000 spreadsheets. And I keep on turning down people. You’re going to be very popular, Walter, when you get back your phone. Let’s see. Sorry.
So while you do that, I’m just going to move on.
Gabriel Sterling: (12:23)
Do you have an estimate as to how long it’ll take to get the result?
Gabriel Sterling: (12:31)
No. I mean, we’re going to start getting results in tonight. We’re going to have the biggest bulk of them. Like we did last time, it depends on the margin. When you want to get a final outcome, we will know the outstanding number of ballots. If I’m a betting person, which I’m not, I would say it’s going to be a couple of days because I anticipate it will be a close race, one way or the other, for probably all three of these seats because most of these people are going to vote straight party one way and straight party another way, from the polling that we’ve seen.
So a couple of days before we even start seeing the final numbers?
Gabriel Sterling: (12:57)
Yes. Again, as best as we can tell. If it’s a blowout, who knows? Let’s see. That’s not right. Let me get back to you. Oh, nevermind. Let me see. Bear with me a second. I’m doing math on the fly, which again is always so exciting. I’m going to have to get back to… Oh, hold on. Let me open up another screen because my math is definitely not working on this. We don’t have half a million that are still out, I don’t think. Let’s see. I know this is exciting television for everybody. Let’s see.
Gabriel Sterling: (14:05)
Normally, they have this in a nice, pretty PDF for me. They didn’t do that today because they were busy doing other things. 306,855 is what we still have out.
306,855. Sorry, if you had mentioned this. But when can you accept them, until tonight at 7:00 PM?
Gabriel Sterling: (14:33)
The cutoff is at 7:00 tonight, that includes drop boxes have to be locked by 7:00 tonight, so that’s considered accepted at that point. And that’s just getting them in. They still have to be with their signature match, and let’s remember, if there’s a signature issue, the voter has up to three days to cure that ballot. And again, there’ll be teams of Republicans and Democrats running around the state, getting those last ballots cured. The other thing that can happen is on provisional ballots, those can be verified through Friday, on those that need to be verified. All right, what else? Yeah, Mark.
Tonight, when we get the vote count, everybody’s going to be watching votes come in. Will early votes be counted first, generally speaking, since those are already in the bag and then we’ll get-
Gabriel Sterling: (15:12)
It depends on how the counties choose to do their work today. Some counties are going to take [inaudible 00:15:27] the early voting scanners to get the memory cards off. That actually takes a little bit of time. Some are going to be doing the mail in first, some will be doing the absentee in person first. But again, it’s up to the county. We have encouraged them to get their mail in voting quickly because I think that was one of the things that caused major confusion in November. Anyone else? Yes. Sorry, she hadn’t had one yet.
Speaker 6: (15:48)
[inaudible 00:15:48] 11Alive. Did you expect today to really have that record for now? I mean, what was it like to kind of go through this?
Gabriel Sterling: (15:55)
Okay. Every one of these elections has been different and had their own new sets of ways of making things seem crazier. Today has been relatively light. It has been sort of calm downstairs. I mean, the biggest things we’ve had to deal with more rumors like, the rumor of a closure, the rumor of a bomb scare, that was actually a domestic incident. So everybody’s kind of on edge for some of these things, but in general it’s been steady as she goes. Like I said, we had 0.02% of touchscreens have a problem, 0.1% of scanners.
Gabriel Sterling: (16:28)
Our biggest issues are kind of like when a plane takes off and lands are your two biggest things. We took off this morning, we didn’t really have any poll pad issues, other than a few user errors, in some of those cases where the encoder wasn’t quite in exactly right and you had to wiggle a little bit. Kind of like when your iPhone gets older and you have to wiggle the cord so it starts to charge, that kind of thing. But in general, we haven’t seen anything be too over the top crazy, which is good. We want steady, and we want to see that the people who want to cast their vote, that their votes are going to count, and they turn out to vote today. Amar?
About Columbia County, so somehow with the precinct there, may extend their-
Gabriel Sterling: (17:07)
Well, two of them will. One until 7:01 and the other one until 7:04, which again feels a little ridiculous to say.
Again, who went to court over this?
Gabriel Sterling: (17:15)
The county did, the county themselves. Because they can’t keep it open themselves. They have to get [crosstalk 00:17:22] themselves. The only way you can go past what the state law says is to get a court order. The county felt, “Okay, we were a minute late in starting, let’s add that into the back.” “We were four minutes late starting. Let’s add that four minutes to the back.”
Even those [inaudible 00:17:33].
Gabriel Sterling: (17:33)
Correct. Yes. And there’ll be a couple of other precincts and polling locations around the state that happens with. Like I said, Tiff County has one at 7:40 and as we get further in the day, we keep collecting those court orders in, and we’ll have a full list by the end of the night.
Speaker 3: (17:44)
What do you hear about complaints about people not being let off work to vote, if that’s something your office has heard? And towards the law, does contain some provision for allowing people to be off.
Gabriel Sterling: (17:55)
We have cited people to that specific law. It’s not that anybody can take off for two hours to go do this. Your hours have to cover the times you wouldn’t be able to… It’s a 12-hour shift basically. You’d have to have time within that to do… I’m not a lawyer, but I’m giving you the basics as a layman. If you work from 9:00 to 5:00, they don’t have to give you time off because you got two hours at the beginning and two hours at the end, so that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Let’s say you work a 12-hour manufacturing shift, they do have to give you those two hours to go do it.
Gabriel Sterling: (18:24)
Anything else? All right. Thanks, y’all thanks.
Speaker 3: (18:28)
Speaker 2: (18:28)
Gabriel Sterling: (18:30)
Anything fun off the record? Nobody asked me about the president’s tweet or anything. I guess that’s old news at this point. [crosstalk 00:18:35] I guess it’s old news now. Thanks again, guys.
Speaker 8: (18:54)
Okay, thank you.