Democrats appear on the brink of taking control of the U.S. Senate with Raphael Warnock the projected winner over Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff leading Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections. Around 2 a.m. ET Wednesday, the Associated Press projected Warnock the winner over Loeffler after the Atlanta pastor built his statewide lead to more than 46,500 votes. Warnock made history with his election win, becoming the first Black Democrat elected as a U.S. senator from a state in the South and only the 11th Black senator in the history of the nation. He becomes the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in Georgia in 20 years. “To everyone out there struggling today, whether you voted for me or not, know this,” Warnock said as he declared victory in a video from his home. “I hear you, I see you, and every day I’m in the United States Senate, I will fight for you. I will fight for your family.” Warnock, who leads Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler by more than 54,000 votes, is the projected winner in his race. Ossoff leads Republican David Perdue by 17,025. The Georgia Secretary of State says there are 62,000 mail-in votes, mostly from Democratic leaning Dekalb County that still need to be counted. There are also 5-10,000 provisional ballots that voters have until Friday to cure discrepancies to get these counted. There are also some military ballots that can be accepted and counted by Friday. When all the votes are counted we fully expect that Jon Ossoff will have won this election to represent Georgia in the United States Senate,” Ossoff campaign manager Ellen Foster said in a statement. “The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon’s performance has been dominant.” The Perdue campaign was not ready to concede. In a statement, the Perdue campaign said the race — as they expected – is “an exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate and the voices of Georgians are heard. “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.” Gabriel Sterling, Georgia voting system implementation manager, said he expects most ballots to be counted by Wednesday but for final counts will not be until Friday. Georgia election officials said turnout Tuesday shattered the previous record for a run-off in the state, including more than 3 million who voted early. Nearly $500 million was spent on campaign ads since Nov. 4, indicative of the significance both parties and special interests placed on the race. Following the playbook that helped Republicans retain control of the Senate after the general election, Loeffler and Perdue attacked their opponents as “radical socialists” and said the fate of nation was at stake with the race. Ossoff and Warnock slammed Loeffler and Perdue for being part of a Republican-controlled Senate that for months refused to pass additional federal coronavirus relief. The election of two Democratic Senators from Georgia will give the Democrats control of the U. S. Senate. Although there will be a 50 to 50 tie, Vice President Kamala Harris will be able to cast the deciding tie breaking vote as President of the Senate. This means that New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer takes over as Senate Majority leader from Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The Democrats will control and be able to name committee chairs of all legislative committees. This also means that the Biden-Harris Administration will be able to have more success in passing its legislative agenda, approving cabinet and judicial appointees to the new Administration.
Georgia voters have begun early voting in the state’s U.S. Senate January runoff that will determine the balance of power in Washington. Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are in tight races with their GOP opponents Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively. Neither candidate was able to get to the 50 percent threshold on Election Day, which is why the runoff is taking place. More than 2 million people have already voted so far and activists on the ground are continuing to help folks who haven’t cast a ballot get to the polls. There are a lot of moving pieces and stakes in this race, so The Root is breaking it all down for you to get a better grasp of what is happening. Why is there a runoff in the first place? Under Georgia state law, candidates for office need to get 50 percent of the vote to win. If they do not, it triggers an automatic runoff. As The Root previously reported, Warnock, who is running against Sen. Loeffler, led all of the challengers in his jungle primary (read our explainer on what that is) and some of his Democratic opponents were encouraged to drop out so that Warnock could reach the 50 percent threshold, making a runoff unnecessary. No one dropped out. Even if all of the other Democratic contenders dropped out, that would have accounted for 15.5, if you add up all of the percentages of votes they got. That would have given Warnock 48.4 percent in total. Neither Ossoff, who political observers say has the more challenging race, nor Purdue got to 50 percent. Then, there is racism, as political consultant Christine Beatty told The Root. “They were put in place for African Americans, especially in Georgia, to discourage them from voting again,” she said. “We’re one of the few states with a runoff. The majority is usually the majority vote, whoever gets the most votes wins. The history of that is steeped in racism.” According to CNBC, the original intent of the law was to weaken the power of Black voters after Reconstruction. It first started with the county unit system, formalized in 1917 but introduced informally in 1898, which gave more voting power to mostly white and less populated areas of the state. Votes were allotted to candidates by county, essentially making it an Electoral College system through which to elect candidates to office. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that the system was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Georgia State Rep. Denmark Grover blamed his 1958 loss to Black voters, thus introducing the runoff system in the legislature in 1964 after he won back his seat. The runoff system became law and stands to this day. Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project told The Root that she and other activists are getting death threats for organizing people to vote in January. People claiming to be members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and investigators from the secretary of state’s office have regularly stopped Ufot and other organizers. Ufot has security at her home and the organization has a detail at her office. “I want to be really clear: The work that we do is important,” she said. “I’m very proud of our team. I’m very proud of where our state is right now. We will not be deterred, but I am hyper-aware of the waters that we’re swimming in. There’s been a ton of de-escalation training, so we aren’t encouraging our people to be heroes. We aren’t encouraging our people to be martyrs. I would argue that the work of the president, these two Senate candidates, Loeffler and Perdue, and national Republicans and right-wing media are absolutely fanning these flames. And it’s a problem.” Why is this race so important?
Republicans control the U.S. Senate, and if Democrats do not win both of those seats, the GOP can make life for president-elect Joe Biden very miserable—just as they did for his former boss, Barack Obama. So far, Democrats have 46 seats to the GOP’s 50. It is important to note that there are two independent senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who caucus with Democrats regularly, essentially giving Democrats 48 seats. If Warnock and Ossoff win, that will give Democrats 50 seats and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to break any ties, making her office uniquely important and influential. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has essentially been the leader of mass obstruction when it comes to pushing forward any progressive legislation. Hundreds of bills continue to linger in the Senate because McConnell simply has not called votes on them. Democrats have long called for Americans to get upwards of $2,000 checks in pandemic relief (the House approved the amount yesterday), and the Equality Act, a bipartisan gun control background check bill, as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 all remain in limbo. With Democrats in the majority, those bills can move for a vote. Beyond that, a GOP Senate will have power to counter any nominations Biden has for the judiciary. Even with a House controlled by Democrats, unless the Senate approves the nomination, Biden’s hands are tied. Georgians, if they send Ossoff and Warnock to Washington, will give Biden the power he needs to pass legislation under his agenda. Will voters turn out for a second election? They already have. Nearly 2.1 million people voted early so far; around 4 million voted early in November. Part of the challenge is voter fatigue, something Ufot said there is no getting around, acknowledging that the job of organizers is to stress how crucial this runoff is. “We’re giving rides to the polls, trying to eliminate that barrier for people participating and direct voter contact, she said. “We’re going back to the people who we touched throughout 2020, it’s our 10 touch strategies. We try to touch the people that we’ve registered to vote 10 times, reminding them to vote, reminding them to bring people with them for the polls. And so some of those touches include phone calls, text messages, and high-quality face-to-face conversations on the doors. We’re sending out postcards. We have these amazing digital ads and all of it is designed to be just this side of annoying, so that folks know how important this moment is and that they show up to vote.” Andra Gillespie, assistant professor of political science at Emory University, told The Root that while numbers are pretty high for this runoff, generally it is very difficult to get folks out a second time—especially for voting outside traditional cycles. Voters who come out for runoffs are usually the types of die-hard, regular voters who show up at primaries and vote in municipal elections where people vote for mundane ordinances in months when people aren’t paying attention. It’s a rarefied electorate, Gillespie said. What is making this runoff competitive, Gillespie said, are the activists who converted all of the state’s unregistered people of color into voters. “It’s that activity that started to change the demographic nature of the electorate, which made Democrats more competitive,” she said. All of a sudden, those double-digit margins by which Republicans were winning started to shrink to single-digit margins, then started to shrink within a point or two of winning races and culminated in Joe Biden being able to pull off a narrow victory in the state. Georgia is diverse, but that diversity wouldn’t have translated into political power if somebody hadn’t identified the fact that they would all be potential voters who weren’t voting, and got them to vote.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2019 that Georgia could become a majority-minority state by 2028, with much of the growth coming from Black Americans moving back to the South. Then there is the growing immigrant population, a demographic Stacey Abrams targeted aggressively in 2018. Xan-Rhea Bilal, a field organizer for Georgia Muslim Voter Project said her organization has been engaging Muslim communities in Atlanta and the surrounding counties since 2015. She educates people in mosques, schools, or any place she can target Muslims. Seniors and kids soon-to-be 18-years-old are especially critical in her outreach.
More than 1 million voters are expected to vote via absentee ballots in the Georgia Senate runoff races, according to The Hill, which signals an important voting trend around the power of mail-in ballots directly related to the past election season. Georgia voters and the nation are closely watching the highly contested races where Democratic challengers Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff respectively face Republican incumbents Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in separate elections. Joe Biden campaigned in Georgia on Tuesday during day two of early voting in the Peach State in an effort to help boost favorability for Warnock and Ossoff. On day one of early voting a record 168,000 voters came out which was 40,000 more than on the first day of early voting in the November General Election contest. In Georgia, around 1.2 million mail-in ballots were requested while around 200,000 had already been submitted to their respective local board of elections as of Tuesday. As many as 67 percent of those who requested mail-in ballots for November’s election requested them again for January’s runoffs, according to the Journal from U.S. Elections Project. Runoff races in Georgia have historically had low voter turnout. But the numbers show that voters are returning to higher levels of civic participation, attributed to on-the-ground organizers like Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown and Nse Ufot who made with Black and brown voters a priority. About 33 percent of Georgians are Black according to the Census, which rates higher than the national average at 13 percent. Black Georgians also lean more Democratic. Due to the onset of the coronavirus, mail-in voting in the primary season and the general election was heavily relied upon than previous than years before, giving voters who usually are unable to vote because of work schedules or lack of accessibility, the opportunity to make their voices heard. It is one of the main arguments why voter suppression occurs in areas with large Black populations. Election officials in Cobb County will audit voter signatures on absentee ballots due to pressure from Trump’s administration over baseless voter fraud claims, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. There are also reports that election officials have reduced the number of dropboxes for voters by 40% in the runoff as compared to the General Election, to make it more difficult for absentee voters. According to the Pew Research Center, Georgia’s absentee ballot numbers are on trend with the national general election where 46 percent of voters opted for mail-in ballots while 54 percent say they voted in person in November. While Black people were less likely to vote by mail, they were more likely to wait in line to vote over an hour according to the study. An estimated 160 million people voted in the election, with 101 million of them voting prior to Election Day through early voting and mail-in ballots, according to PBS NewsHour.