Millions of voters in Georgia have already requested absentee ballots for next month’s Senate runoff races, with around 1-in-6 ballots having already been returned, indicating that the race will see a historic voter turnout.
The races pit Republican incumbents Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively. The outcome of the races could determine which political party controls the United States Senate. If both Warnock and Ossoff win their respective races, the “upper chamber” of Congress will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris providing a tie-breaking vote.
Around 1.2 million mail-in ballots for the runoff races have already been requested by voters. Of those requested, around 200,000 ballots have already been returned. In-person voting in Georgia for the runoff races also began on Monday.
In the general election, around 1.78 million residents in Georgia requested absentee ballots. Nearly 2.7 million also voted in person early, prior to Election Day in November.
While the count for the runoff races is currently lower than the general election numbers, total requests for absentee ballots for the January 5 races will likely increase until voting day, as voters in Georgia have until January 1 to request such ballots (although advocates recommend that voters make the request well before that date). Ballots must be returned by January 5, Election Day for the runoffs, by 7 p.m.
Turnout for the runoffs is expected to be lower than it was for the general election, which is typically the case for runoff races. In 2018, for example, the contest for secretary of state saw 3.88 million votes cast in the general election race, while the runoff for that year’s election only saw 1.47 million voters take part — a dropoff in participation of about 62 percent.
However, the participation rate is expected to be higher for this year’s runoff than it was in 2018. Emory University professor Bernard Fraga, who spoke to the Associated Press about the matter, predicted that the total number of voters for both runoff races could reach around 4 million voters.
Nearly 5 million voted in the presidential election in November, with about 45,000 fewer votes coming in for the Perdue-Ossoff race. In the Warnock-Loeffler matchup, around 4.91 million voted.
“It looks like we’re going to have a high-turnout election,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “I would encourage all the candidates to make sure that they run hard, because we don’t have a runoff after the runoff. This is it.”
Turnout for the races will be critical for both political parties, as polling has shown tight numbers in both contests, with Democrats having a slight advantage at the moment.
Republicans are worried that President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud will discourage some Republican-leaning voters from voting, as they may view the runoff elections as rigged.