ATLANTA — A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to ensure provisional ballots aren’t improperly rejected and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor.

In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the secretary of state’s office to establish and publicize a hotline or website where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots, she ordered the secretary of state’s office to review or have county election officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional ballot because of registration issues.

Totenberg also ruled that Georgia must not certify the election results before Friday at 5 p.m., which falls before the Nov. 20 deadline set by state law.

State elections director Chris Harvey testified at a hearing last week that the state had planned to certify the election results on Wednesday, a day after the deadline for counties to certify their results. He said that would allow preparations to begin for any necessary runoff contests, including one already projected in the race for the next secretary of state.

Current unofficial returns show Republican Brian Kemp leading by a margin that would make him the governor-elect. But Democrat Stacey Abrams insists that enough outstanding votes remain to be counted that could pull Kemp below the majority threshold and force a Dec. 4 runoff.

Totenberg acted in response to a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 by Common Cause Georgia. The suit accuses Kemp, the state’s top elections official until he resigned as secretary of state last week, of acting recklessly after a vulnerability in Georgia’s voter registration database was exposed shortly before the election.

Kemp’s actions increased the risk that eligible voters could be illegally removed from the voter registration database or have registration information illegally altered, the lawsuit says.

Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in an emailed statement that the ruling helps increase voter confidence in elections.

The secretary of state’s office was reviewing the order and considering its options, spokeswoman Candice Broce said in an email.

Totenberg’s order doesn’t change the Tuesday deadline for counties to certify their results. But Abrams’ campaign filed a lawsuit Sunday asking a federal court to push that deadline to Wednesday, while also requiring that elections authorities count certain provisional and absentee ballots that have been or would be rejected for “arbitrary reasons.”

“I am fighting to make sure our democracy works for and represents everyone who has ever put their faith in it. I am fighting for every Georgian who cast a ballot with the promise that their vote would count,” Abrams said in a statement explaining her refusal to end her bid to become the first black woman elected governor in American history.

Kemp’s campaign retorted that Abrams’ latest effort is “a disgrace to democracy” and ignores mathematical realities.

“Clearly, Stacey Abrams isn’t ready for her 15 minutes of fame to end,” said Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

As of Monday evening, a hearing had not been scheduled for arguments in the case, but Abrams’ campaign was expecting a federal court in Atlanta to set a Tuesday hearing, given the time sensitivity.

Unofficial returns show Kemp with a lead of about 60,000 votes out of more than 3.9 million cast; Abrams would need a net gain of about 21,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff.

Today, Abrams for Governor campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo released the following statement on the rulings:

“The rulings from last night and this morning were wins for Georgians’ fundamental right — the right to cast a ballot. Given the confusion sowed by the Secretary of State’s office last week and the number of voters who experienced irregularities regarding their registration status, these victories were necessary steps in the fight to count every eligible vote in Georgia. We remain grateful to groups like Common Cause who know this is about more than just one campaign — it is about committing to a fairer, more democratic system.”

The Georgia race, along with Florida’s gubernatorial and Senate matchups that are requiring recounts, are among the final measures of a midterm election cycle that already has allowed Democrats to deal serious blows to President Donald Trump.

Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp carefully shake hands before their first gubernatorial debate Tuesday, October 25, 2018 in Atlanta. Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice

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