Georgia’s Kemp says he’s governor-elect, Abrams fights on

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Brian Kemp resigned Thursday as Georgia’s secretary of state, removing himself from the ongoing count of the governor’s election he says he’s already won.

Kemp made his announcement in the governor’s office of the Georgia Capitol, standing beside the man he plans to replace in January. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal called Kemp “the governor-elect” and both said they would begin transition work together.

“We won a clear and convincing victory,” Kemp said of returns showing him with 50.3 percent of almost 4 million votes, about a 63,000-vote lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams. That’s a narrow sum considering the near-presidential election year turnout, though sufficient for the majority required for outright victory.

Abrams maintained there are enough uncounted ballots to force a December runoff in one of the marquee matchups of the 2018 midterm elections.

The Associated Press has not called the governor’s race.

With legal wrangles opening on what votes to count and how, the dispute is prolonging a bitter contest awash in historical significance and national political impact. Abrams hopes to become the first black woman elected governor of any American state. Kemp seeks to maintain Republican dominance in a growing, diversifying Deep South state positioned to become a presidential battleground.

The key question is how many uncounted ballots actually remain. Kemp says it’s less than 21,000 — almost certainly not enough to force a runoff. The elections chief from the secretary of state’s office said in a federal court hearing Thursday afternoon that the number is 21,190.

“Even if she got 100 percent of those votes, we still win,” Kemp told reporters.

Abrams’ campaign argues the total could be higher, and the secretary of state’s office has been scant in sharing details as officials in Georgia’s 159 counties keep counting.

“This is about the integrity of the election in the state of Georgia,” said Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo. “Brian Kemp can’t just walk away from that … Our governor (Deal) can’t just walk away from that.”

John Chandler, one of several attorneys for Abrams, promised to “litigate until we have determined that every person’s vote has been counted.”

A runoff, if needed, would be Dec. 4.

County authorities must certify final returns by Tuesday. The state must certify a statewide result by Nov. 20. Deal appointed one of his Cabinet members to oversee the process in Kemp’s place.

Abrams, other Democrats — including former President Jimmy Carter — and voting rights activists had for months called for Kemp to step down amid charges he was abusing his office to make it harder for some Georgians, particularly minorities, to vote.

Kemp said his resignation “will give confidence to the certification process.” He maintained he wasn’t bowing to pressure but preparing to be governor.

“That was all political,” Kemp said of previous criticisms, adding Tuesday’s turnout — about 1.4 million more than in Deal’s last election — proves it.

One of the lawsuits heard Thursday in federal court requested Kemp be barred from overseeing the rest of the certification procedure — a requested pre-empted by Kemp’s resignation.

Abrams’ campaign said it believes she needs to pick up about 25,000 votes to force a runoff.

Offering examples of potential ballots Democrats say Kemp isn’t contemplating, Groh-Wargo said four counties reported considerably fewer early votes in the governor’s race than the number of early ballots cast. Groh-Wargo said it seemed implausible that voters cared enough to cast ballots early but not in the hotly contested governor’s race.

She added officials in suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County added several hundred votes to that count Thursday morning from absentee ballots. That came after the secretary of state’s office said all absentee and early ballots had been counted.

Abrams’ lawyers also said they planned to sue officials in Dougherty County because absentee ballots were delayed after Hurricane Michael devastated parts of south Georgia. Separately, the ACLU raised concerns over 1,200 absentee ballots in Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, which it said were rejected because of missing birthdate information.

“Brian Kemp owes voters an explanation,” Groh-Wargo said, demanding to see lists and names. “We do not believe any of these numbers are credible.”

When Kemp’s campaign declared victory Wednesday, aides cited a statewide estimate of uncounted ballots from the secretary of state’s office. But that office had not publicly offered a county-by-county breakdown to Abrams’ campaign or the media at that point.

The provisional vote total is considerably higher than in 2016, when a slightly larger electorate yielded 16,739 provisional ballots. Of those, 7,592 were counted.

State and campaign officials have said they expected a much higher proportion to be counted this year. In federal court Thursday, a secretary of state’s representative said the provisional count included at least some votes cast late at a handful of metro Atlanta precincts that courts ordered to stay open past Tuesday’s 7 p.m. poll closing time.

Kemp said he and Abrams have not communicated since the election. And while Kemp said he respected Abrams’ efforts, he declared Thursday, “The votes simply are not there for her.”

Vote tallies due in Florida’s hotly contested elections

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Unofficial vote tallies in Florida’s elections were due by midday Saturday, which could prompt recounts in the hotly contested races for governor and U.S. Senate.

At stake was the tight and acrimonious U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. The governor’s race between former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, might also face a recount.

The recounts reflect a deeply divided electorate in a state that will play a critical role in the 2020 election and will determine whether Nelson will return to Washington for a fourth term or the Republicans will pad their majority in the Senate.

Gillum conceded to DeSantis on Tuesday night, but when the results began to narrow, he said every vote should count. DeSantis has said little about the recount and is instead proceeding as if he won the election, appointing a transition team and preparing to take office in January.

The battle for Nelson’s Senate seat has been much more heated, with both sides filing lawsuits and trading verbal jabs. Scott has said Nelson is trying to steal the election, while Nelson is accusing Scott of trying to stop elections officials from counting every ballot. President Donald Trump has weighed in on behalf of Scott, calling the situation “a disgrace.”

Scott had asked Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections departments in South Florida’s Democrat-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties after his lead narrowed in ballot-counting that continued through the week. However, a spokeswoman for the agency said Friday that there were no credible allegations of fraud; therefore, no active investigation.

The governor, meanwhile, filed lawsuits in both counties seeking more information on how their ballots were being tallied. Nelson filed his own federal lawsuit Friday, seeking to postpone the Saturday deadline to submit unofficial election results.

Judges sided with Scott in rulings late Friday ordering election supervisors in the two counties to release information on ballot-counting sought by the governor.

Meanwhile, the Broward Canvassing Board met Friday to review ballots that had been initially deemed ineligible. Lawyers from the campaigns, journalists and citizens crowded into a room to observe the proceedings.

Scott’s lead had narrowed by Friday evening to 0.18 percentage points —a lead of less than 15,000 out of nearly 8.2 million ballots cast — below the threshold for a recount. Florida law requires a machine recount when the leading candidate’s margin is 0.5 percentage points or less, and a hand recount if it’s 0.25 or less.

In the race for governor, DeSantis was leading by 0.43 percentage points late Friday.

A third statewide race that could go to a recount — the agriculture commissioner race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell — is the tightest of all, with Fried holding a 3,120-vote lead, a margin of 0.039 percent.

‘The Voice’ loses its final New Yorker this season with Zaxai’s elimination

Zaxai, the city’s final competitor on this season of “The Voice,” was cut Tuesday night after previously being given a second chance at the winner’s title by judge Kelly Clarkson.

“When she stole me, I was elated and ecstatic,” says Alberto Pierre, the 29-year-old Flatbush native, who performs under the moniker Zaxai (pronounced zahk-EYE). “The way they edited it, you couldn’t see my full, full reaction, but I wish you could because it’s so funny. She [Clarkson] pressed the button and I jumped up super high and said, ‘can I hug her?’ ”

Clarkson stole Zaxai from rival judge Jennifer Hudson’s team during a battle that aired last month, helping him become the only New Yorker to make it to the talent competition series’ live rounds.

On Monday, he performed a rendition of Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You” while a smiling Clarkson listened along. On Tuesday, he was cut.

“What I hope to gain from ‘The Voice’ is just a crazy diverse fun fanbase,” says the Haitian-American singer who found his voice at age 13 while performing with his church’s gospel choir. “I want a crazy fan base that’s ready to ride or die with me on this journey.”

With “The Voice” behind him, Zaxai is headed back to Brooklyn, where he performs with his band Date Night at Baku Palace on Emmons Avenue. Below, he reflects on his time on “The Voice.”

You and Kelly Clarkson had a run-in meeting a few years before your fates collided on “The Voice.”

OK, so [in 2010] I was working at Radio City Music Hall as an usher, and when you’re stationed at stage left or right — I’m 6’2 I’m super tall — you’re supposed to keep the aisles clear and keep people from jumping on chairs. So, I’m crouched and my head is against the stage. I don’t realize she’s behind me — I’m looking at the kids jumping into the aisle and I’m trying to keep it clear. I notice the kids want to rush, but I wasn’t sure why. I felt a thump on the back of my head and I look above me and it’s Kelly Clarkson. I was like “Holy smokes, it’s Kelly Clarkson.” I promise you I’m starstruck. I’m fixed on her. Little do I know the kids took that opportunity to run up the aisle into her. She didn’t [notice] because she’s in the moment. She didn’t care and I really didn’t care. I told my friends I’d never wash my head again.