A federal judge on Monday ordered a delay in the certification of Georgia’s election results, citing concerns about the state’s voter registration system and the handling of provisional ballots. The decision effectively deepened the turmoil in Georgia’s campaign for governor, a still unsettled contest that has been among the most acrimonious campaigns in the nation this year. Although the ruling by Judge Amy Totenberg of Federal District Court in Atlanta formally affected every election in Georgia for state and federal office, it reverberated most immediately and powerfully through the governor’s race, in which the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, was within 21,000 votes of forcing a runoff election against Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee. Georgia’s secretary of state, Robyn A. Crittenden, had been preparing to certify the outcome of the election as soon as Wednesday, one day after Georgia’s 159 counties were to complete their tabulations and six days before state law mandated certification. But in a 56-page ruling on Monday night, Judge Totenberg forbade Ms. Crittenden, who assumed office only last week, from certifying the results until at least Friday evening.
Judge Totenberg, who had already raised concerns about Georgia’s system of elections this year, wrote that the state’s announced timetable for a swift certification “appears to suggest the secretary’s foregoing of its responsibility to confirm the accuracy of the results prior to final certification, including the assessment of whether serious provisional balloting count issues have been consistently and properly handled.”
Georgia allows people to cast provisional ballots in three circumstances, including when a person’s name is not listed on the roster of registered voters at a precinct, and critics of the state have argued that security vulnerabilities had left a government computer system prone to manipulation. Some 21,190 provisional ballots were cast in Georgia, state officials said, about 9,000 more than were submitted in 2014, when the Georgia Governor’s Mansion was last at stake. (Democrats have questioned the state’s data.)
The renewed validity of any ballots could narrow the margin in the already close race for governor. Unofficial returns showed Monday night that even as Mr. Kemp held a lead of about 58,000 votes, he could afford to lose only 21,000 or so votes before facing a runoff election against Ms. Abrams. If Ms. Abrams were to net about 19,000 votes, a recount would be required under state law.