WASHINGTON - Tuesday is election day for two runoff U.S. Senate races in the state of Georgia that will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control power in the U.S. Senate.
Republican Senator David Perdue is facing a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff, a television documentary producer, while Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, one of the wealthiest lawmakers in the country, is going up against the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Baptist minister.
Polls ahead of election day indicate the two Democrats hold slight edges in the contests, both of which were made necessary because none of the four candidates won a majority in the first round of voting in November.
Voter turnout is expected to be exceptionally high, with more than 3 million ballots cast in early voting. Five million votes were cast in Georgia in the November balloting, but about 100,000 people who did not vote then have already done so in the Senate runoffs.
When will votes be counted?
None of the early ballots will be tabulated until Tuesday, and the official winners, depending on how close the vote counts are, likely will not be known on election night.
Officials said the early voting was particularly heavy in precincts that Democratic President-elect Joe Biden won in November, but Republicans say they expect to do much better with in-person voting on Tuesday.
That was the scenario that played out in November in Georgia and across the country when substantially more Democrats voted early, while more Republicans voted in person on the actual day. Because the advance votes take longer to count, President Donald Trump appeared to be ahead in Georgia on election night but eventually lost the state.
Who controls US Senate now?
Republicans currently hold a 50-48 advantage in the Senate. A Republican victory in either or both of Tuesday’s elections would give the party an outright majority and the right to set the Senate agenda and hold a majority on all Senate legislative committees.
If both Warnock and Ossoff were to win, there would be a 50-50 split in the Senate, giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the opportunity to break tie votes in favor of the Democrats in organizing the committees and controlling the legislative calendar.
Republican control would complicate passage of Biden’s legislative agenda over the next two years, likely forcing extensive negotiations on such issues as extending health care benefits, setting immigration controls and establishing climate regulations.
Both Biden and outgoing President Donald Trump held rallies Monday in Georgia in a final attempt to persuade voters.
“The power is literally in your hands,” Biden said. “Unlike any time in my career, one state, one state can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation."
He said Georgians had voted in record numbers in the presidential election in November, giving him a narrow win in the state. “Now, we need you to vote again in record numbers,” he said.
Trump campaigned later Monday in a heavily Republican enclave in Dalton in the northern part of the state, telling supporters the election could be their “last chance to save the America that we love.”
“The far left wants to destroy our country, demolish our history and erase everything that we hold dear,” Trump said. “This could be the most important vote you will ever cast for the rest of your life."
He also continued his criticism of Georgia elections officials for refusing to overturn his narrow loss to Biden in the state, falsely claiming he won and that the vote was “rigged.”
Georgia officials rebuff Trump's fraud allegations
An initial vote count of the November presidential vote, and two recounts, all showed Biden won.
In a Saturday phone call, Trump pleaded with the state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to find another 11,780 votes to overturn his loss to Biden.
But Raffensperger rebuffed Trump and on Monday told ABC News that the president was “just plain wrong” that there was voter and vote-counting fraud in Georgia.