ATLANTA (NewsNation Now) — Georgia officials are counting ballots as polls closed across the state Tuesday night in two critical races that will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate and, in turn, the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
Polls for the runoffs opened statewide Tuesday at 7 a.m. EST, and most were scheduled to close at 7 p.m.
NewsNation will live update this blog as votes are tallied; all times local. Votes are still being counted, follow live results for the Georgia U.S. Senate Special Election here on NewsNationNow.com.
11:22 p.m. – Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling says Chatham County, home to Democratic-leaning Savannah and Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, has stopped counting votes for the night as they have completed counting of “everything they have in. That includes Election Day, Advanced, & all of the absentees they had in. The last left will be the absentee by mail that came in today.”
11:20 p.m. – With 95% of the expected votes tallied and reported, Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock has retaken the lead over GOP candidate Kelly Loeffler, with 50.35% of the total votes reported cast for Warnock. In the Perdue vs. Ossoff race, Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue is narrowly maintaining his lead with 50.04% of the total votes, and Jon Ossoff with 49.96%.
10:50 p.m. – One of Georgia’s top election officials clarified late Tuesday on Twitter that the largest share of outstanding votes—votes cast early in the Democratic stronghold of Dekalb County—is in excess of 171,000 ballots.
Georgia Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling clarified the outstanding vote count in DeKalb County after other media outlets reported there were only 130,000 early votes from DeKalb left to tally.
10:10 p.m. – A top Georgia elections official says the largest share of outstanding votes looks to be ballots cast early in DeKalb County, a Democratic stronghold.
Gabriel Sterling also said Tuesday night that fewer than half of Georgia’s 159 counties had finished counting votes.
Sterling said as of about 9:30 p.m., 64 counties had finished counting absentee ballots, early in-person ballots and Election Day ballots. Most of them were smaller counties.
He says, “It’s going to be a long night for all the campaigns here.”
All eyes were on Georgia on Tuesday night for two runoff elections that will determine which political party controls the U.S. Senate. Republican Kelly Loeffler was taking on Democrat Raphael Warnock, while Republican David Perdue was going up against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Democrats must win both races to take Senate control. Republicans only need to win one.
9:55 p.m. – Court ordered the Fulton County Board of Elections to remove tri-fold barriers, and allow credentialed monitors to view ballots from inside steel barriers
Prior to the polls closing Tuesday, the Superior Court of Fulton County in Georgia ordered the Fulton County Board of Elections to ensure credentialed monitors view Absentee and Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) ballots, at least 10 feet away from processing tables, and inside the steel barriers. The court also ordered the county BOE to remove “all blue-opaque-tri-fold barriers.” The order was in response to a complaint filed before the runoff Election Day by the Fulton County Republican Party.
Fulton County is the most populous county in Georgia; it includes most of Atlanta and is heavily Democratic.
Fulton County elections director Rick Barron gave reporters a rough estimate of more than 70,000 votes cast in person on Tuesday, versus about 60,000 in-person votes on Nov. 3.
State officials said there were no major problems with voting on Tuesday.
9:30 p.m. – Georgia Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling gave an update Tuesday night on the runoff election as votes continue to be counted.
9:15 p.m. – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has appeared at a Republican election event, telling the crowd that “we’re the red wall that is trying to stop socialism in this great state.”
Kemp has received criticism from President Donald Trump after Trump lost Georgia in the November election. Nevertheless, he showed up at a party for Republican Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue on Tuesday night.
Part of Kemp’s 10-minute speech was devoted to memorializing Harrison Deal, a Loeffler campaign worker who died in a car wreck near Savannah in early December while on the way to a campaign event.
Kemp’s daughter Lucy had dated Deal and the 20-year-old college student was close to the governor and his family.
Kemp wore a red “Hold it for Harrison” cap on stage while accompanied by his wife and three daughters. Kemp saluted Deal as his family wiped away tears. He said, “I just want to thank you, how hard you’ve been working, to hold it for Harrison.”
9:15 p.m. – Two cities that lean Democratic, including Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock’s hometown of Savannah, have just over 1% of the vote in, NewsNation correspondent Michael Shure reports:
9:10 p.m. – The elections director for Georgia’s most populous county says a bomb threat targeting an Election Day polling place in Georgia’s most populous county was investigated last week by the FBI.
Fulton County elections director Rick Barron said Tuesday during a media briefing that “the person said that the Nashville bombing was a practice run for what we would see today at one of our polling places.”
A bomb detonated in downtown Nashville on Christmas morning, killing the bomber and injuring three other people and damaging dozens of buildings.
The Fulton County threat, received Dec. 30, was reported to the FBI. Barron says agents visited the Tennessee home of the man who made the threat and searched it but did not make any arrests.
Barron says several members of his staff have received death threats and “innumerable racial slurs” have been directed at his staff, by phone and on social media.
9 p.m. – The two Senate runoff elections in Georgia are too early to call.
Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had a small lead in votes counted as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, but much of that vote came from ballots cast before Election Day, which generally favor Democratic candidates.
That left room for Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to catch up as more votes cast on Election Day, which tend to favor the GOP, were added to the count.
The two races will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Loeffler is challenging Warnock, while Perdue is going up against Ossoff.
8:50 p.m. – More people voted in Georgia’s most populous county during Tuesday’s runoff election than on Election Day during the general election in November.
Fulton County elections director Rick Barron gave reporters a rough estimate of more than 70,000 votes cast in person on Tuesday, versus about 60,000 in-person votes on Nov. 3. Fulton County includes most of Atlanta and is heavily Democratic.
Barron noted that there were fewer absentee ballots cast than during the general election and that the early in-person voting period was four days shorter, both of which he said may have contributed to the higher Election Day turnout.
Spokesperson Summer Dunham says neighboring DeKalb County, also a Democratic stronghold, also saw more in-person voters on Tuesday than on Nov. 3.
Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Republican Kelly Loeffler is going up against Democrat Raphael Warnock, while Republican David Perdue is challenging Democrat Jon Ossoff. Democrats must win both seats to take control of the Senate.
8:10 p.m. – Emory University Professor Alan Abramowitz joined NewsNation as we wait for the votes to come in. NewsNation’s Joe Donlon asked Abramowitz when we can expect to know who won the runoff races and how the votes in Georgia will be counted in respect to mail in ballots vs. votes cast in person on Tuesday.
When we can expect to know who won the runoff races?
“I think the answer to the first question depends on how close the race is, and right now it looks like these races are going to end up being very close, where the final margin is likely to be within one percentage point and as a result, I think that we’re not likely to know the outcome, we’re not likely to see the race is called until tomorrow, maybe even later,” Abramowitz said. “I don’t think it will take as long as it did in November, but I think it’s going take a while.”
COMPARED TO NOVEMBER, HOW ARE MAIL IN VS. IN PERSON VOTES BEING COUNTED?
“As far as the order of the count, it seems to be a little bit different tonight than it was in November. What we’re seeing tonight is, first of all, the votes are being counted much faster. And I think that’s a result of the fact that the counties were processing absentee ballots ahead of time and are only waiting on absentee ballots that are coming in on Election Day. And now they are also processing the votes that came in on Election Day,” Abramowitz said. “So, from what we are seeing here, it looks they’re counting absentee ballots much faster than they did last time. And we’re seeing a much faster count and it’s showing, as far as we can tell, comparing the results with the November results on a county by county basis looking at those that have come in and those that have not, we’re heading toward a long night.”
Watch the full interview below:
7:45 p.m. – With 13% of the expected vote reported, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads with just over 52% of the tallied votes to incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue’s nearly 48%. Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock leads with 52.5% of the vote to GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s 47.5% of the vote as the ballots continue to be tallied across the state.
The race is too early to call for The Associated Press.
7 p.m. – Most polls have closed in Georgia for voting in the two runoff elections that will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
By law, voters who were in line when the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday will still be allowed to vote.
Experts say the two Senate races could be very close and have warned that the results may not be known for days since counties have to count large numbers of mail-in ballots. During November’s presidential race, President-elect Joe Biden did not take the lead over President Donald Trump in Georgia until days after the polls closed.
Absentee ballots must be received by the close of polls to be counted. Military and overseas ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received by Friday will be counted, and absentee voters also have until Friday to fix any problems so their votes can be part of the final tally.
Several counties in Georgia have polling locations that will stay open late because of a judge’s order.
6:55 p.m. – Two polling locations in Chatham County have extended their closing times by order of Superior Court Judge John E. Morse due to technical difficulties:
- Chatham County Old Courthouse on Bull Street has been extended to 7:33 p.m.
- Beach High polling location extended to 7:35 p.m.
Voting underway in Georgia Tuesday with Senate majority at stake
The state’s voting implementation manager, Gabriel Sterling, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the average wait time at the polls was about one minute.
Democrat Jon Ossoff is facing Republican David Perdue, while Democrat Raphael Warnock is challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. If Warnock wins, he would become the state’s first Black senator.
Loeffler told reporters while campaigning Tuesday in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs that “the future of the country is on the ballot.”
Meanwhile, Warnock is criticizing Loeffler for saying she will join a number of Senate Republicans on Wednesday in challenging Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory.
Warnock told supporters in suburban Marietta that Loeffler is “trying to take your voice” by helping President Donald Trump attempt to overturn his election defeat.
HOW MANY EARLY VOTES WERE CAST IN THE GEORGIA SENATE RUNOFFS?
More than 3 million Georgians have already voted either early in-person or via absentee ballots. That’s more than 60% of the nearly 5 million who voted in November’s presidential election.
Democrats must win both of the elections to win the Senate majority. In that scenario, the Senate would be equally divided 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker for Democrats.
Democrats already secured a narrow House majority and the White House during November’s general election.
Even a closely divided Democratic Senate likely won’t guarantee Biden everything he wants, given Senate rules that require 60 votes to move most major legislation. But if Democrats lose even one of Tuesday’s contests, Biden would have little shot for swift up-or-down votes on his most ambitious plans to expand government-backed health care coverage, strengthen the middle class, address racial inequality and combat climate change. A Republican-controlled Senate also would create a rougher path for Biden’s Cabinet picks and judicial nominees.
“Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you. The power is literally in your hands,” Biden charged at his own rally in Atlanta earlier Monday. “One state can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.”
Republicans are unified against Biden’s plans for health care, environmental protection and civil rights, but some fear that outgoing Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory may discourage voters in Georgia.
At a rally in northwest Georgia on the eve of Tuesday’s runoffs, Trump repeatedly declared that the November elections were plagued by fraud that Republican officials, including his former attorney general and Georgia’s elections chief, say did not occur.
The president called Georgia’s Republican secretary of state “crazy” and vowed to help defeat him in two years. At the same time, Trump encouraged his supporters to show up in force for Georgia’s Tuesday contests.
“You’ve got to swarm it tomorrow,” Trump told thousands of cheering supporters, downplaying the threat of fraud.
Georgia’s January elections, necessary because no Senate candidates received a majority of the general-election votes, have been unique for many reasons, not least because the contenders essentially ran as teams, even campaigning together sometimes.
WHO ARE THE CANDIDATES IN THE US SENATE RUNOFFS IN GEORGIA
Warnock serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached. The 51-year-old Black man was raised in public housing and spent most of his adult life preaching in Baptist churches.
Warnock is facing Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s Republican governor. She is only the second woman to represent Georgia in the Senate.
The other election pits 71-year-old former business executive Perdue, who held the Senate seat until his term officially expired on Sunday, against Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member if elected. The fresh-faced Democrat first rose to national prominence in 2017 when he launched an unsuccessful House special election bid.
Democrats have hammered Perdue and Loeffler, each among the Senate’s wealthiest members, for conspicuously timed personal stock trades after members of Congress received information about the public health and economic threats of COVID-19. None of the trades has been found to violate the law or Senate ethics, but Warnock and Ossoff have used the moves to cast the Republicans as self-interested and out of touch.
Perdue and Loeffler have answered by lambasting the Democratic slate as certain to to usher in a leftward lunge in national policy. Neither Warnock nor Ossoff is a socialist, as Republicans allege. They do, however, support Biden’s agenda.
This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the turbulent 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting. The stakes have drawn nearly $500 million in campaign spending to a once solidly Republican state that now finds itself as the nation’s premier battleground.
Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast in November.
Democratic success will likely depend on driving a huge turnout of African Americans and first-time voters, all groups that helped Biden become the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 to win Georgia. Republicans, meanwhile, have been focused on energizing their own base and voters beyond the core of metro Atlanta.
The runoff elections come as Trump continues his campaign to undermine election results across various states he lost. In a recording of a private phone call made public on Sunday, the president told Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes to give him an outright victory in the state, even after repeated recounts, failed court challenges, and state certification.
Congress is scheduled to vote to certify Biden’s victory on Wednesday. Loeffler took the stage at Trump’s rally and vowed to join the small but growing number of Republicans protesting the count on the Senate floor.
“Look, this president fought for us,” she said. “We’re fighting for him.”