Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
More than three million total votes have been cast in Georgia’s runoff for U.S. Senate and the clock is ticking down before polls close in the whirlwind race pitting Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock against Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
There were long lines during Georgia’s condensed early voting period, which had record in-person turnout, but there are few reports of long waits Tuesday despite a good turnout on a dreary day that by 4 p.m. had surpassed one million voters.
Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office reported Tuesday that residents are spending an average of less than three minutes to vote.
A couple hours before the polls close at 7 p.m., the agency’s Chief Operating Officer Gabriel Sterling said Georgia was on the verge of having 3.4 million votes, which is remarkable considering that the general election turnout was 3.9 million.
“You usually fall down to like 40%, maybe 50% of what you had in the first round,” Sterling said. “We are going to be well above that by the end when all is said and done.”
Georgia’s new voting law means this year’s Senate runoff took place four weeks after the general election, or half the turnaround between the November 2020 general election and the January 2021 runoff when Warnock and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff defeated Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Warnock was elected in 2021 to finish GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term after he retired due to his declining health.
One of the voters to come out Tuesday was Clarese Hallman who voted for Warnock at Mt. Zion High School in Clayton County, continuing a trend over the last two election cycles. The nursing assistant said she is confident the incumbent can defeat an opponent whose character she says is less than admirable.
Hallman praised the Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor’s demeanor and said that she is impressed with how he’s handled his first two years in the Senate.
“I’m ready for this to be settled and send a sign that Georgia isn’t turning everything over to Republicans to dictate everything,” she said.
Despite a high turnout in early voting among Black and young voters that appeared to favor Warnock, the supporters of his Republican opponent were eager to rally conservative voters to the polls Tuesday in hopes of replacing Warnock with a more like-minded candidate.
In the conservative hotbed of Cherokee County, residents Maureen Hanratty and Bill McClellan said they attempted to vote early but couldn’t because of the lines so instead they went to their precinct Tuesday where they had a much easier go.
“We tried to vote early, and there were 300 people in line,” Hanratty said today outside of her polling place at Ball Ground United Methodist Church in Ball Ground. We said forget about it, we’ll vote on Election Day.”
On a chilly and foggy day, the lines moved swiftly at Sutallee Baptist Church in Bartow County where Walker was the popular choice among voters like Ron Lipke who said he wants the GOP to have more power to offset the agenda of President Joe Biden.
Warnock’s victory would give Democrats 51 seats in the Senate and provide more leeway in close votes on legislation while preventing Republicans from obtaining a filibuster-proof majority in the next election cycle.
If Walker wins, Senate committees will be evenly divided, which will further bolster the Republican power after already regaining control of the House of Representatives in the midterms.
“I think in this day and age, there’s a lot of things you could talk about being a problem or not a problem that should be or shouldn’t be,” Lipke said. “But I really don’t like it when it’s all in one hand. I don’t care whose hand, I think that’s really dangerous.”
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger argued there is no excuse for registered voters not to turn out in the final hours. Georgia’s voting law changes in 2021 will allow absentee ballot processing to begin earlier, which should lead to a smoother process for tabulating votes in what is expected to be a close election.
“People feel more comfortable and more confident about the process,” he said. “We know that we have safe, secure honest elections that are accurate, but we want all the voters to have that same sense of confidence,” Raffensperger said.
Georgia Recorder reporter Ross Williams contributed to this report.
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