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Election audit to scrutinize machine, absentee ballots

The hand count of nearly 5 million votes will test the accuracy of Georgia's new voting system.

ATLANTA — Georgia’s election audit will begin on Friday morning.  With nearly 5 million ballots cast statewide, officials say they want it to be finished by midnight on Wednesday. 

The audit will verify or debunk Georgia's vote total that appears to award the state's 16 electoral votes to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. 

The audit itself is a process where workers in each of the state's 159 counties will physically have to look at each of the nearly 5 million paper ballots that were cast during the election. Nearly all of the ballots were already counted by electronic scanners last week. 

Georgia & Atlanta Election Results

This will also be an acid test for Georgia's new voting system -- with new voting machines -- that was used statewide for the first time this year. In addition, it will test whether its computerized components can withstand detailed human scrutiny.

"The main thing we're trying to do is show the equipment scanned the ballots properly, and the counts we got were the right counts," said the state's voting system implementation director, Gabriel Sterling. "And the (paper) ballots we have are the backup trail to that."

RELATED: Georgia to conduct audit as a full hand recount of the presidential election

Georgia's new voting system requires voters to select a candidate on a computer screen. The machine prints out a paper ballot showing a voter's choices and stamped with a QR code. The voter places the paper ballot into a scanner, which scans the QR code. 

The QR code is what is counted -- with the code designed to match the voter's choices.

Sterling said that county auditors will separate voting machine-generated ballots in polling places from hand-marked ballots delivered from absentee voters -- which will help provide data on the accuracy of the voting machines. 

He said he expects the human auditors to make a few mistakes -- as does Georgia Tech professor Rich deMillo. He is an author and former Dean of Georgia Tech's College of Computing.

RELATED: Here's what Georgia law says about election audits, recounts by hand

"What time of day are you doing it? Is there someone to check your work? All of that stuff comes into play," DeMillo said. "And it causes hand recounts to fundamentally error-prone."

"Human beings are the most flawed part of the process," Sterling said. "I guarantee you the numbers will be slightly different."

The state has set a deadline of Wednesday at midnight to finish the hand-count of the state's ballots. 

What will happen if one or more of Georgia's 159 counties cannot make the deadline? Sterling would not say.