On Tuesday, Atlanta held its nonpartisan runoff to succeed termed-out Mayor Kasim Reed, and Democratic City Councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms appears to have won in a squeaker. With all precincts reporting, Bottoms has a 50.4-49.6 lead over independent City Councilor Mary Norwood, a margin of 759 votes. Bottoms has declared victory, but Norwood said on election night that she would wait for military and provisional ballots to be counted on Thursday and would seek a recount. Eight years ago, Reed defeated Norwood in the runoff by 714 votes.
Georgia allows a recount if the margin between the candidates is 1 percent or less, so Norwood is well within her rights to request one. However, it’s unclear what she’ll do if she’s still trailing after the recount ends. Just before Thanksgiving, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released audio of Norwood speaking at a June gathering of young Republicans arguing that Reed and his allies stole the 2009 election from her.
Norwood didn’t offer a shred of evidence for her claims when the AJC asked her about them. Instead, Norwood claimed she’d been “really careful about not putting all of this out there for years, because I didn’t think this would be helpful “for Atlanta’s reputation, and added in a statement that had she contested the election results “it would have further divided the city.” Given her refusal to admit she lost by 714 votes in 2009, we’ll have to watch and see if she accepts she lost by around the same number this time.
If Norwood had won, she would have become Atlanta’s first white mayor since the 1970s, and its first non-Democratic chief executive since 1879. Bottoms, who had Reed’s endorsement, led Norwood 26-21 in the November primary, but there were plenty of signs that this would be another tight race. Notably, Bottoms and the other black primary candidates took a combined 51 percent of the vote last month, while white contenders took 48 percent. Atlanta has been predominantly black for decades, but the white share of the population has been increasing in recent years. Most of the defeated primary candidates endorsed Norwood for the runoff, while she also picked up a potentially vital endorsement from ex-Mayor Shirley Franklin, a prominent black Democrat.
However, all of this may not have made much of a difference in the end. As data expert Matthew Isbell’s maps demonstrate, the precincts that gave a majority of their support to black candidates in the primary gave Bottoms an almost-identical margin of victory on Tuesday, and vice-versa for precincts that favored white candidates going heavily for Norwood. Norwood did make up ground over the last month, but it seems like she didn’t do quite as well as she needed to when as was said and done.
However, it’s very unlikely anything will change the results. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there are only 540 provisional ballots and just a couple of military ballots, not enough to allow Norwood to pull ahead even under the best possible scenario. A recount will likely be done by the end of next week, but because almost all the ballots were cast electronically, there isn’t much of a chance that anything will move. Indeed, last month there was a recount for a citywide council seat, and the defeated candidate picked up all of one vote.