Brian Kemp oversaw elections, including his own gubernatorial race, as Secretary of State. But his record is marked by controversy and litigation. USA TODAY
ATLANTA – Republican Brian Kemp has declared victory in the Georgia governor’s race with election results showing him with a narrow lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams and all but a few precincts reporting complete results.
But the Abrams campaign said Wednesday it would not concede and hopes that thousands of absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted contained enough votes to force a runoff election or recount.
A spokesman for the Kemp campaign said in a statement Wednesday evening that with Kemp ahead 64,000 votes, outstanding provisional and overseas ballots would not make a difference.
“Simply put, it is mathematically impossible for Stacey Abrams to win or force a run-off election,” Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said in a statement. "Peach State voters made a clear decision at the ballot box. Brian Kemp will now begin his transition as governor-elect of Georgia. He will work every day to keep our state moving in the right direction."
Kemp holds a two-point lead over Abrams with all precincts reporting. Abrams' hope was to close the gap by some 15,000 votes, enough to deny Kemp an outright majority and force a head-to-head runoff on Dec. 4.
Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said Wednesday evening the campaign was working to ensure every vote was counted, even if that leads to a lawsuit.
"We know our opponent has had the secretary of state's office declare he is the winner. We are here to say we don't accept that," she said, adding the campaign was examining "every option" to ensure the race was fair.
Groh-Wargo said while the secretary of state has released numbers, the campaign has asked for the proof behind the data and received silence from the office, which Kemp heads.
She called his overseeing of the election a "conflict of interest" and said Kemp was using his position as secretary of state as "an arm of his campaign apparatus."
Groh-Wargo said they were blindsided by Kemp's claim of victory when she says there are at least 25,000 provisional and mail-in ballots remain uncounted. They said they were unsure of how many absentee ballots remain but the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office said Wednesday afternoon that less than 3,000 “non-provisional” ballots were outstanding.
Clarke, Fulton, Hall and Gwinnett counties completed their absentee ballot tabulations today. Cobb and Chatham were expected to also finish their counts by the end of the day.
According to the statement, county officials reported less than 22,000 provisional ballots cast statewide.
Provisional ballots must be verified by Friday. All counties in Georgia are required to certify their election results by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Poll watchers reported problems and irregularities at several sites. A Fulton County judge ordered hours extended at some polling places Tuesday to give voters who might have been affected more opportunity to cast ballots.
Groh-Wargo said there has been confusion in DeKalb County over how to count provisional ballots because they haven't been tabulated in prior elections.
And she said Hurricane Michael, which caused mail to Dougherty County to be rerouted through Tallahassee, Florida, could have delayed some absentee ballots.
Craig Albert, a political scientist at Augusta University, said the chance the outstanding ballots would close the gap was slim.
“I think it’s mathematically possible,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem probable that that’s going to happen. Everything would have to happen perfectly in her way for this to occur right now.”
Groh-Wargo said Abrams will not concede the race until every vote is tallied.
"We feel that Georgia voters deserve to have those votes counted," Groh-Wargo told reporters on Wednesday.
In one of the nation's highest-profile gubernatorial elections this year, the candidates are competing to succeed Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. Deal has reached his two-term limit.
Abrams, 44, a former state House minority leader, is trying to become the first Democrat elected governor in Georgia in 20 years and the first black woman governor in the nation.
Kemp, 55, Georgia's secretary of state, is trying to keep the office in Republican hands.
With polls showing a tight race in the days before the election, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence came to Georgia to rally for Kemp. Former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey appeared for Abrams.
Albert said Abrams was smart to stay in the race for now. No matter the final result, he said, her performance exceeded expectations.
He called voter turnout this year "remarkable” for a midterm election.
The Abrams campaign released data Wednesday showing 3.9 million voters cast ballots in the gubernatorial race. That was 56 percent more than the 2.5 million who voted in 2014.
As secretary of state, Kemp is Georgia's top election official.
Abrams and her supporters have accused Kemp and other Republicans of attempting to suppress the Democratic vote.
Kemp's office on Sunday announced an investigation of the state Democratic Party over an alleged hack of the state's voter registration system.
Both sides condemned a racist robocall that targeted Abrams and Winfrey.
A group of Georgia voters filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Tuesday seeking to stop Kemp from presiding over the election.
Groh-Wargo said the fight for votes could last until the election is certified in each county.
That typically happens on the Monday after an election. But it was unclear whether that would be delayed by Veterans Day on Monday.
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