ATLANTA – Voting precincts in Georgia closed Tuesday at 7 p.m. in what’s been the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history.
After the polls closed, the state began counting vote-by-mail ballots in addition to the votes cast Tuesday. More than 3 million Georgians had voted early, either by mail or during in-person voting in December. The state shattered its turnout record for a runoff. The state’s previous record was 2.1 million in a 2008 Senate runoff.
At 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the race was too early to call.
Gabriel Sterling, a top official with the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said voting was smooth across the state with minimal wait times, though lines of around an hour built up in Republican-leaning Houston, Cherokee, Paulding and Forsyth counties.
“We’re gonna start getting results and tonight we’re gonna biggest both of them,” Sterling said. “If I’m a betting person, which I’m not, I would say it’s gonna be a couple of days. I anticipate it will be close race one way or the other.”
Both Senate seats are up for grabs in the Peach State. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the incumbent Republican senators, are facing off against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
The runoff was triggered because no candidate got 50% of the vote in November to win.
People on Tuesday were campaigning for their chosen candidates across Atlanta. Millions voted early, but there was still a steady stream of people at precincts across North Georgia.
“Was very easy. Short line when I went. Maybe a 10 minute wait,” said Mike Burgess, a registered voter.
State election officials reported light turnout Tuesday morning, including in the deeply conservative northwest region where Trump held a rally Monday night to encourage GOP voters to turn out in force. Wait times at polling sites were “almost nonexistent,” averaging about one minute statewide, said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
It’s a high-stakes election. If Democrats win both seats, they will have control of the Senate, as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will become the tiebreaking vote.
If Republicans keep at least one seat, they will hold the majority and could create a rougher path for the policies of President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration.
“I personally am concerned about one party having complete control,” Burgess said. “I prefer having balance and the requirement for a negotiation in (Washington) D.C. so that neither party can run away with extreme ideas.”
The race has brought the biggest political players to Georgia. Biden and President Donald Trump visited Monday to make their final pleas before voters went to the ballot box.
“Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden declared at his own rally in Atlanta on Monday. “The power is literally in your hands.”
“You’ve got to swarm it tomorrow,” Trump told thousands of cheering supporters Monday night.
With tensions high, and with many -- including Trump -- being critical of the election process, the state’s top elections managers say security is a top priority.
The early turnout was expected to benefit Democrats, as it helped Biden in November become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Republicans were counting on a big turnout Tuesday to boost their chances.