The races will determine which party holds the Senate majority for the next two years. Democrats aim for unified control of Congress and the White House. Republicans want a check against President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
In one contest, 71-year-old Republican David Perdue runs against 33-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff, who runs a documentary production company. Perdue seeks a second term in the Senate after his first ended Sunday.
The other special election pits 50-year-old Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler against 51-year-old Democrat Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. The seat, which opened up after former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson retired early, will be up for reelection in 2022.
Both elections went to runoffs after no candidate garnered more than 50% of the vote in the general election.
Counties have begun reporting results, with some small counties’ reports already complete. Cobb County in the Atlanta metro area said it will not finish tallying results tonight and will resume ballot counting Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Mike Segar | Reuters
More than 3 million Georgians cast their ballots ahead of Tuesday, marking a historic high turnout for a runoff election in the state. Runoff election data and voter history data suggest Democrats held an advantage in early voting turnout. Republicans hoped for a strong showing on Tuesday.
Average wait time at polling locations hovered around one minute statewide through Tuesday, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office. Top Republican election official Gabriel Sterling said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that election day turnout could range from about 600,000 to 1.1 million voters. Exact numbers are difficult to predict before ballots are counted.
Several precincts closed later than 7 p.m. ET due to delays earlier in the day. The latest was a Lowndes County polling location that closed at 8:00 p.m. ET, according to the Georgia Democratic Party. Voters who were in line before polls close were legally allowed to cast a ballot.
The pair of runoffs in Georgia are the two most expensive Senate races ever, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
If even one of the Republicans win, the GOP will keep Senate control. Democrats need to sweep both races to reach a 50-50 split in the chamber. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would then hold a tiebreaking vote.
The election results will shape the first two years of Biden’s agenda. If Republicans keep the Senate, they will push for a smaller coronavirus relief package than Democrats hope to pass in the coming months. During a rally Monday, Biden and the Democratic Senate candidates stressed wins in Georgia could help them to pass $2,000 direct aid payments — a plan Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposes on its own.
A Democratic Senate would also give Biden a better chance of passing his economic recovery agenda and confirming his chosen Cabinet nominees and judges. Confirmation requires only a majority, while most legislation will need 60 votes to pass.
Throughout the runoffs, Perdue and Loeffler have appealed to Trump’s loyal supporters, including by backing the outgoing president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. In a climactic event just days before the election, Trump threatened Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over a phone call to find votes that would overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia.
Loeffler said in a statement Monday that she would oppose the certification of the Electoral College results on Wednesday. The maneuver is expected to fail.
Some GOP strategists worried that Trump’s continued attacks on the integrity of Georgia’s elections could discourage some Republicans from voting on Tuesday.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.