WASHINGTON — Georgia voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in pivotal runoff elections that will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. ET in the state and they close at 7 p.m. ET. Voters who are in line by 7 p.m. can still cast a ballot, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office. More than 3 million Georgia residents have already cast ballots in the two races during the early voting period that started Dec. 14.
In the races, Democrat Jon Ossoff is running against Republican David Perdue, whose Senate term expired on Sunday with the start of the new Congress, and Democrat Raphael Warnock is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The runoffs come after none of the candidates captured 50 percent of the vote in November’s election.
The outcome Tuesday will decide whether Republicans will retain control of the Senate or Democrats retake the majority, which would give President-elect Joe Biden a better chance at passing his agenda through Congress. If both Democrats win, the chamber would be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaker for Democrats on party-line votes. But the party would still face obstacles given the need for 60 votes to advance major legislation.
Ossoff plans to stop by a polling place in Atlanta at around 10:30 a.m. to encourage voters, according to his campaign schedule. Warnock, meanwhile, took to Twitter to remind voters to bring identification to polling places.
The candidates made their final campaign pitches Monday with the help of the leaders of their parties. Biden stumped for Ossoff and Warnock in the afternoon and President Donald Trump held a campaign-style rally for Loeffler and Perdue, where he spread misinformation about voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Both sides framed the election as a defining moment for their agendas and for the country.
“Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden told Georgia voters in Atlanta. “One state can chart the course not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.”
During Trump’s roughly 70-minute speech, he continued to make unsupported claims about missing ballots in this year’s presidential election and threatened to campaign “against your governors and your crazy secretaries” in 2022 — spelling out a fear of many Republicans that defending the integrity of the November election could come at the risk of losing the president’s support.
He tweeted Tuesday morning that Georgia should get out and vote for Loeffler and Perdue, “So important to do so!”
Trump’s comments came after audio surfaced of a phone call between him and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday in which the president is heard begging the official to “find” votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state.
The president’s continued attacks on the integrity of the election serve as the backdrop for Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote on Wednesday — a normally routine process that has become a litmus test on support for the president and his claims of voter fraud.
Nearly a dozen Republican senators have announced they will object to the Electoral College votes unless a commission is formed to audit the results of the 2020 election. Dozens of House Republicans are expected to object as well.
While the objections will force lawmakers to vote on the Electoral College results, putting them on record about whether they back Trump’s voter fraud claims, the move has no real chance of overturning Biden’s win.
Loeffler said Monday night that she also plans to object to the Electoral College certification process and backs the proposed commission.
In reaction, Warnock said Monday on MSNBC that Loeffler’s planned objection is “very disappointing but it’s not at all surprising.”
“The one good thing I can say about my opponent is that she is consistent — she is consistently putting her own interest above the people she’s supposed to be representing,” Warnock said. “And so it’s quite a development, to be sure.”
Perdue has also said he supports the objections. His campaign senior strategist, Austin Chambers, said that Perdue isn’t worried about GOP critics of Trump staying home.
“Those Republicans understand the importance of holding the majority,” he said.
Late Monday, lawyers for Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who are both Republicans, blasted a lawsuit Trump filed Friday to reverse Biden’s win in the state, saying the latest bid rehashes numerous other failed challenges since Nov. 3.
“Plaintiff nevertheless seeks to disenfranchise millions of Georgia voters at the thirteenth hour — despite plaintiff’s own dilatory and confusing actions,” the lawyers wrote in a response to the suit.