With control of the Senate on the line, the Democratic challengers in today’s Senate runoffs in Georgia hold slim leads in last-minute polls as early voting data signals unprecedented momentum among Black voters and a massive overall turnout.
Meanwhile, the GOP is struggling to contain the fallout from President Trump’s extortionary and possibly illegal attempt to strong-arm Georgia’s top elections official into overturning President-elect Joe Biden’s general election victory in the state, where the incumbent Republican senators hope to motivate voters by showing loyalty to Trump and indulging right-wing conspiracy theorists.
The stakes could not be higher. If they win their elections, Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock will wrench the Senate from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s control. They will also have triumphed over efforts by Trump and right-wing activists to invalidate ballots in a state notorious for voter suppression.
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“Right now, the energy on the ground is off the charts,” said Wanda Mosley, a senior state coordinator for the voter mobilization group Black Voters Matter, in an interview from Atlanta. “People are excited, people are engaged, and people want to make history again.”
The race is tight and now hinges on turnout. Warnock, the senior pastor at a Baptist church steeped in Atlanta’s civil rights tradition, led Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler by just over two points in polling averages released by FiveThirtyEight on Tuesday. Ossoff was ahead by an even slimmer margin, leading Republican Sen. David Purdue 49.1 percent to 47.4 percent.
At least 3 million early votes were cast ahead of today’s election, shattering the previous record for a Georgia Senate runoff by nearly 1 million votes, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Turnout was heaviest in Democratic-leaning areas, and turnout among Black voters has so far exceeded the unprecedented turnout during the general election, when grassroots voter mobilization efforts focused on turning out Black and Brown voters helped flip a traditionally red state blue. Early turnout was lower in rural, more conservative counties, reflecting Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting.
“For us, the election is really about building power,” Mosley said. “And if we look at the increase in the turnout from 2016 to 2020, we saw a lift of about 19 percent, and that’s a win for Black voters.”
However, postal service delays are putting thousands of mail-in ballots at risk of arriving at state elections offices after the January 5 deadline, raising concerns that early voters who mailed ballots three to five days ahead of the election may be disenfranchised, according to NBC’s LX News.
Trump’s Strong-Arm Attempt to Steal General Election Is Impacting Runoffs
Trump looms large over the runoffs as he desperately tries to avert the end of his presidency. On Saturday, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, and demanded that Raffensperger “find” more than 11,000 votes to reverse his loss in Georgia. A recording of the call was leaked to The Washington Post and immediately threw the already raucous runoff races into political turmoil.
Despite a record of being at odds with voting rights groups, Raffensperger pushed back as Trump presented unfounded conspiracy theories to explain his loss, which was certified in three recounts.
Careful to keep prospective Republican voters motivated while simultaneously avoiding Trump’s ire, both Loeffler and Perdue have called on Raffensperger to resign while infighting among Republicans in Congress erupts over a largely symbolic attempt to overturn Trump’s loss in the Electoral College.
Perdue defended Trump’s call with Raffensperger on Monday and painted the president’s thoroughly debunked claims of voter fraud as legitimate concerns requiring investigation. However, Trump’s loss in Georgia’s general election was certified and recertified multiple times, and legal challenges filed by the Trump campaign and its allies have been roundly dismissed.
Voter Suppression Looms Over Georgia Runoffs
Mosley said Trump’s call with Raffensperger was just the latest attempt at voter suppression in Georgia, where a right-wing group based in Texas has embraced Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud and poured resources into challenging the legitimacy of mail-in votes cast across the state during the general election. Mosley said attempts at disqualifying votes have overwhelmingly been dismissed, because the effort is “baseless” and a “blatant” attempt at voter suppression.
“The challenges there are to signature matches,” Mosley said, referring to voter signatures on ballots and mailing envelopes. “Again, this is the only way they know they can win … if they eliminate votes from Black, Brown and working-class voters.”
However, the issue of voter suppression — along with the historic nature of a runoff election marred by conspiratorial attacks on Warnock, a Black pastor — is motivating voters of color to the polls. Loeffler’s alleged proximity to white supremacists may also spur turnout for Warnock.
“Basically, the right to vote for Black people in this country has been under attack every day since we had the right to vote,” Mosley said. “It is a strategic and organized effort, but it also serves to energize us. We recognize the power in our vote, so it makes us that much more determined to exercise that power.”
With so many mail-in votes cast in the Georgia runoffs, and with those votes coming from Democratic-leaning areas where Republicans have long raised the false specter of voter fraud, Georgia voters may face fresh challenges to their ballots from GOP operatives if both Ossoff and Warnock win the election. However, losses for the Republican incumbents would be more accurately blamed on Trump, whose embrace of conspiracy theories and false claims of a system rigged against him have divided the GOP and may depress Republican turnout.
With demographics shifting in Georgia and across the country, Mosley said Trump and other Republicans know that voter suppression is their only path to maintaining power.
“They are definitely trying to suppress Black and Brown votes, working-class votes and young people,” Mosley said. “And that group that I just explained is the rising American electorate, this is the new American majority, and they are afraid of the new majority because it doesn’t look like them.”