Early voting ends with record 3M Georgia voters for US Senate runoffs

12/16/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  Fulton County elections workers work with voters during early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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12/16/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Fulton County elections workers work with voters during early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A record 3 million Georgia voters cast their ballots before early voting ended for the U.S. Senate runoffs, setting up a showdown that will be decided on election day Tuesday.

The high turnout so far reflects the national importance of the dual runoffs, which will determine control of the Senate. Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

No votes will be counted until polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, but state election data analyzed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicate more ballots have been cast so far by groups and in areas that tend to favor Democrats.

Turnout lagged in rural, conservative congressional districts through Thursday, especially in northwest Georgia where President Donald Trump plans to rally voters on Monday.

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Meanwhile, Black voters, who generally support Democrats, made up a higher portion of voters so far than in the presidential election.

But Republicans could make up ground with a strong showing on election day, as in the general election. For example, Trump and Perdue each won about 60% of in-person votes cast on Nov. 3. Loeffler also benefited from election day voting in the 20-candidate Senate special election.

The 3 million early votes cast so far have already shattered the previous record for total turnout in a Georgia runoff set in 2008, when 2.1 million people participated in a U.S. Senate runoff between Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin.

Hundreds of thousands more ballots are likely to be cast on Tuesday. During the presidential election, nearly 1 million Georgians voted on Election Day. Total turnout reached 5 million. Trump and President-elect Joe Biden are both coming to Georgia Monday to push election day voting.

Early voting turnout for the runoff approached presidential levels. About 77% as many voters participated in the runoff during three weeks of early voting.

Turnout stayed strong during this holiday week, with more than 150,000 people casting in-person votes each day, similar to the pace seen in the final days of early voting before the general election.

The heaviest turnout came in areas that lean Democratic and embrace early and absentee voting, including the 6th and 4th congressional district in metro Atlanta.

While turnout in rural areas was generally lower than the rest of the state, some populated counties like Chatham and Richmond also had subpar early voting numbers.

By race, election data show that Black voters have outperformed their share of the electorate. About 31% of voters in the runoff so far identified themselves as Black compared to 27% in the general election. Overall, Black voters make up 30% of the state’s registered voters.

White voters are also turning out, accounting for 56% of runoff voters, higher than their 53% of registered voters.

An influx of new voters will also influence the outcome of the runoffs. Over 114,000 voters who didn’t participate in the general election have cast ballots in the runoffs. Those voters are more racially diverse than the state’s electorate as a whole — 37% Black and 43% white.

Of voters who have participated in both the primary and the runoffs, Democrats hold an advantage going into election day.

About 57% of runoff voters who also voted in last June’s primary requested Democratic ballots. About 41% pulled Republican Party ballots. About 44% of runoff voters didn’t participate in the primary.

By the numbers

3 million: Turnout at the end of early voting before the runoff

3.9 million: Turnout at the end of early voting before the general election

5 million: Total turnout in the general election