U.S. court orders Georgia to continue review of governor's race

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Georgia voters will wait until at least Friday for the final word on who will be their next governor after a U.S. federal judge ordered state election officials to review provisional ballots cast in last week's election.

In an order late on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg urged county election officials to conduct a "good faith" or "independent" review of ballots cast by voters on a provisional basis in the race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican and former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

The race was one of at least a dozen high-profile U.S. contests where the final results remained unclear one week after Americans went to the polls. The midterm congressional election on Nov. 6 produced a divided federal government, with Democrats taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives and President Donald Trump's Republican Party expanding their majority in the U.S. Senate.

Officials in Florida are also recounting the results of contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial seats.

"This remedy is necessary and warranted, based on the nature of the evidence in the record, the fundamental importance of the interest of the voters that cannot be remedied after final certification, and the urgency of the situation," wrote Totenberg, who is handling the case in Atlanta federal court.

Officials should "engage in a good faith review of the eligibility of voters issued provisional ballots" or "engage in an independent review" of voters' information on a rolling basis to avoid delaying final certification, she said.

Kemp had declared victory on election night, even as the Abrams campaign said there were thousands more mail, provisional and absentee ballots still to be tallied.

The Georgia contest came under national scrutiny because of Kemp's role as the state's top election official, a position he held through the Nov. 6 vote. Voting rights groups and prominent Democrats have accused the Republican of using his position to suppress minority votes, an allegation he has strongly denied.

Abrams is vying to be the first black female governor in the United States.

In Florida over the weekend, officials began a machine recount of votes in the race between outgoing Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, with another recount under way for the gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum.

Florida law mandates recounts in elections where the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent.

The result of Arizona's closely fought U.S. Senate race emerged on Monday night when U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema declared victory and Republican opponent Martha McSally conceded, after multiple media outlets called the closely contested Arizona race for the Democrat.

Sinema will succeed Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, who did not seek reelection.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

11/13/2018 9:27

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