Georgia Runoff Turnout Nears 1.5 Million and Heads Toward Record

Nearly 1.5 million Georgia voters have already cast ballots in Senate runoff elections next month, signaling a competitive race that could break the record for runoff voting in the state set in 2008.

Democrats have a slight advantage among those who have participated in early voting, which began Dec. 14, according to an analysis by TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm. The firm’s model shows 48.2% of early and absentee voters are likely Democrats, compared with 45.5% for Republicans.

The double runoff for the two Georgia Senate seats will decide whether President-elect Joe Biden has a narrow majority in the Senate to advance his agenda in Congress, or if Republicans will have the votes to block major legislation. If Democrats win both seats, the Senate would be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast a tie-breaking vote.

The seats are now held by Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are facing challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. In the general election, Perdue led Ossoff 49.7% to 48%. The Loeffler-Warnock race was a special “jungle primary” to fill the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson. Warnock led 32.9% to Loeffler’s 25.9%. Republican Doug Collins came in third with 20%.

Biden won the state by 12,670 votes, giving Democrats some confidence that they can take one or both Georgia seats for the first time since 2005.

To do so will require mobilizing voters in a Jan. 5 election in which the Senate seats and one public service commission seat are the only races on the ballot, and the coronavirus has constrained the ability to do many traditional organizing events.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Biden, Harris and Ivanka Trump have all made campaign stops in Georgia on behalf of their parties’ candidates, possibly heightening interest on both sides.

Runoff elections, held mostly in Southern states when no candidate gets a majority of the votes, inevitably have lower turnout — particularly among minority groups — giving Republicans the advantage.

But so far, early turnout among Black voters is even stronger than in the Nov. 3 general election, according to voting data compiled by Ryan Anderson of Black voters make up 32.1% of the runoff voters, compared with 27.8% in the general election.

“If this pattern holds, this would likely benefit Democrats,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Atlanta’s Emory University. “Blacks are the base of the Democratic Party in Georgia, comprising more than half of all Democratic voters.”

Still, the presidential election showed Republicans were more likely to vote on the day of the election — a trend that could intensify as Trump has stoked distrust of mail-in absentee ballots cast in his loss to Biden.

Both parties have resumed door-to-door campaigning despite the pandemic, and the campaigns and their allies have reserved more than $457 million in television advertising. Much of that is devoted to encouraging their supporters to vote early.

“Both parties are eager to get their votes in the box. Get it in! Get it in!” said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. He said he has seen parking lots filled to capacity at early voting centers.

The Jan. 5 election is on pace to break records for a Georgia runoff, and rival turnout for the general election. As of Sunday, 901,497 people have already voted in person at Georgia early voting centers, and 569,267 have returned ballots by mail.

The almost 1.5 million votes so far amounts to about 30% of the 5 million cast in the Nov. 3 election. More significantly, absentee and early voting is just 7% less than the early voting total 15 days before the general election.

And there are still 677,147 absentee ballots outstanding. If just those ballots are returned, the runoff would exceed the 2.1 million voters in the 2008 runoff election between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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