Georgia Senate runoff sets records for early votes, but with a big asterisk

Georgia has twice shattered its daily record for early voting this week in the nationwidely watched state Senate runoff, but even if the state keeps up the pace, it seems unlikely that it will match turnout for early voting from the 2021 runoff becomes.

The number of voting days advanced for the Dec. 6 runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Herschel Walker was roughly halved compared to last year’s Georgia Senate runoff.

Democrats won both races, which lasted nine weeks, helping them gain control of the Senate. Since then, Republicans, who control Georgia’s legislature and governorship, passed an election law last year that shortened the runoff to four weeks.

The 2021 law also severely restricted postal voting. Election officials can no longer mail ballot applications to voters, and voters have much less time to apply for a ballot: During the runoff, a voter should have applied for a ballot by last week. And because of the law, there are far fewer Dropboxes available for returning absentee ballots than there were for the 2020 election and its runoff.

The result is a funnel effect in Georgia. Voters have a much smaller voting window, which has led to hours-long lines in Metro Atlanta, a Democrat stronghold, even though fewer people are voting ahead of Tuesday’s runoff than they were in the early 2021 election. Democrats fear the Restrictions will hamper a turnout machine they’ve been working for years to build — which gave Mr. Warnock, Jon Ossoff and Joseph R. Biden Jr. victories two years ago.

As of Monday afternoon, the wait in Alpharetta, Georgia, a northern Atlanta suburb, was 150 minutes, according to a website that tracks polling station queues. In the same district, the wait on Wednesday was 90 minutes. Early voting ends on Friday.

Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the Secretary of State’s office, wrote on Twitter Tuesday night that nearly 310,000 people cast their ballots that day, beating Monday’s previous record.

What you should know about the Georgia Senate runoff

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Another runoff in Georgia. The fight between Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent Herschel Walker will be decided in a December 6 runoff. It will be the third US Senate runoff in two years. Here’s a look at the race:

What is a runoff? A runoff is essentially a rematch that occurs when none of the original candidates meet the criteria for victory. Under Georgian law, candidates must obtain a majority of the vote to win an election, but both Mr Warnock and Mr Walker failed to clear the 50 percent hurdle in the November 8 election.

How long will the process take? Two years ago, Georgia was the site of two Senate runoffs that wouldn’t be decided until January 2021, but a new election law shortened the runoff from nine weeks to four weeks. This year’s runoff will be held on December 6, with early voting beginning November 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Why does Georgia have a deadline law? Georgia’s runoff law was created in the 1960s to preserve white political power in a majority-white state and reduce the influence of black politicians, who reportedly could more easily win in a multi-candidate race by a majority of the vote the US Department of the Interior.

What are the stakes? Although Democratic victories in Arizona and Nevada ensured the party would hold the Senate, a Mr. Warnock win would give Democrats an important 51st seat ahead of an extremely challenging Senate card in 2024.

Where is the race now? Both sides spend money on advertisements and solicit visits to national allies. But the outcome will likely depend on one big factor: voter turnout. With the shortened time window for runoff elections, the parties are investing heavily in mobilizing voters during the early election period.

At the beginning of Wednesday, according to the foreign minister, about 833,000, almost 12 percent, of Georgia’s seven million voters had cast their ballots at the start of the runoff. By Election Day, about 3.1 million people had voted early in last year’s runoff, nearly 40 percent of all registered voters in the state, according to data compiled by the University of Florida’s US Elections Project.

With control of the Senate already decided, the stakes are much lower this year. But even if the state drew 300,000 daily voters for the remainder of this year’s early election period, it would fall well short of the 3.1 million early voters who turned up last year.

In the current runoff, less than one in 10 of the recorded early votes were cast by absentee ballot, state election officials reported. Mail-in ballots were mailed to all Georgia voters at the beginning of the pandemic, but the new electoral law requires voters to request them now.

Mr. Walker’s Republican allies have expressed frustration with his decision to skip campaigning over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, particularly given the shorter timeline.

When Georgia Republicans enacted new election rules last year, they said shortening the runoff calendar would help election officials. But civil rights activists and Democrats heavily criticized the law when it was passed, and now argue that its impact on runoff voting rules and procedures will marginalize Georgians in many counties.

Georgia is one of three southern states where the proportion of black voters in the Nov. 8 election fell to its lowest level since 2006. But the state also had lower black turnout in the 2020 general election compared to subsequent runoffs. If black turnout for this year’s runoff picks up, as it did in early 2021, it could end up in Mr Warnock’s favor.

Democrats are keen to retain the seat, which would give them an outright majority in the Senate — meaning they would no longer have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the casting vote in the divided Senate, and would have single-seat majorities claim in committees. Such an absolute majority would help them move legislation and confirm judges and presidential candidates, as well as give the party breathing room if one of its moderate members breaks the ranks.

Mr. Walker, a college football legend who was pushed to run by former President Donald J. Trump, is facing Mr. Warnock for the second time in a month because neither candidate received at least 50 percent of the vote, as reported in the November was required. 8 choice.

Mr. Warnock, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached received about 38,000 more votes than Mr. Walker earlier this month.

Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein contributed coverage.

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