Georgia voters head to polls in critical Senate runoffs

Sam Levine in Atlanta
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Georgia voters headed to the polls on Tuesday for the final day of voting in a critical election that will determine which party controls the US Senate and what Joe Biden can achieve in the first two years of his presidency.

After she cast her ballot on the chilly morning in Atlanta, Stephanie Aluko stood outside her polling place and noted how remarkable it was that the entire world was paying attention to her state.

Related: Trump call to Georgia secretary of state electrifies voters in Senate runoffs

“It made people in Georgia see how important it actually is to vote,” she said outside Antioch Baptist church, where a steady stream of voters were able to quickly cast their ballots. “If the whole world is looking at you and paying attention to you, suddenly, maybe your vote matters.”

Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev Raphael Warnock are trying to oust Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively. If Democrats win, they will win complete control of the US Congress, (the Senate would be evenly split with Kamala Harris, the vice-president-elect, casting the tie-breaking vote) allowing Biden to enact an ambitious policy agenda on items such as voting rights and the environment.

If Republicans win even one seat, they will maintain their majority in the Senate, giving them a powerful veto in government and limiting what Democrats can achieve. A record amount of money has poured into the race, a reflection of its high stakes.

The race is also a crucial test of a new emerging political power in Georgia. Long considered a conservative bastion, Joe Biden carried the state in November, the first Democrat to do so in nearly 30 years. The changing electorate is also being driven by efforts from Stacey Abrams and other grassroots groups, many led by Black women, to organize and mobilize voters of color.

The Rev Raphael Warnock speaks as campaign volunteers listen. inMarietta, Georgia, on 5 January.
The Rev Raphael Warnock speaks as campaign volunteers listen. in Marietta, Georgia, on 5 January. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

“To be able to be part of this specific election is memorable because I feel like my vote actually counted this time,” said Gabi Strode, 27, who also voted at Antioch Baptist church on Tuesday morning. “It’s surreal, kind of.”

Georgia Democrats have not won a statewide runoff election in decades, according to ABC News, as Democratic turnout typically drops in the second race. But ahead of Tuesday, more than 3 million people had voted early, a record for a runoff election, with significant numbers in Democratic-leaning areas. Black voters have also consistently made up a higher percentage of the early electorate than they did at the same point ahead of the November general election, according to Ryan Anderson, who analyzes Georgia voter data and publishes to the website georgiavotes.com

The early vote data showed Republicans needed to have strong turnout on election day in order to win, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

Meanwhile, there was a jolt in the lead-up to election day after the Washington Post published a recorded phone call in which Donald Trump, who lost Georgia by 11,779 votes, pressured Georgia election officials to change the results from the November election to make him the winner in the state. At a rally in Georgia on Monday evening, the president continued to falsely claim that he won more votes than Biden in the state.

Donald Trump claps as Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign rally in Dalton, Georgia, on 4 January.
Donald Trump claps as Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign rally in Dalton, Georgia, on 4 January. Photograph: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

Several Republicans have backed Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, and several, including Loeffler, plan to object to Congress’s certification of electors in the presidential race on Wednesday

“It makes me angry,” Shirley Rosser, 64, a voter in Atlanta said of Trump’s false claims about voter fraud. “It makes me want to kick his behind.”

Polls are open until 7pm ET in Georgia and voters are entitled to cast a ballot as long as they are lined up by then. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s top election official, predicted there would be an election result on Wednesday morning, though it could take longer as election workers count absentee ballots. Experts are again urging patience in processing the results – since it may take longer for Democratic-leaning areas with large populations to report vote totals, it may appear that Republican candidates are ahead before all votes are counted.

If the race is close, there will probably be an aggressive legal effort to challenge ballots in the days to come.

During a rally in Riverdale, Georgia, about 20 minutes outside of Atlanta, on Monday, Warnock used the possibility of post-election litigation to motivate his supporters.

“We need to win by a comfortable margin. Because, you know, funny things go on,” he said.