Crush of early voters sets up big election day in US Senate runoff

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Over 2,400 voting locations open across Georgia on Tuesday

The busiest week of early voting in Georgia history concluded with over 1.8 million ballots cast before election day in the U.S. Senate runoff.

The large number of voters pushed polling places to their capacity during five days of statewide early voting, resulting in waits of more than two hours in some areas. On Friday, long lines of resilient voters wrapped around libraries and government buildings into the night.

But while turnout set daily records this week, including a high of 353,000 voters on Friday, an abbreviated early voting period resulted in fewer votes than before last month’s election. There were 2.5 million early voters in the general election, when statewide early voting was held on 17 days.

On election day, officials expect strong turnout in the final race for Senate between Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

The large number of election day voting locations Tuesday — over 2,400 across Georgia — could prevent long lines unless voters overwhelm their local precincts. Voting went smoothly last month, with 1.5 million voters on election day and a total turnout of nearly 4 million.

Turnout is usually lower in runoffs than during general elections. In the last Senate runoffs two years ago, 4.5 million people participated compared to 5 million in the presidential election.

Because Georgia’s voting law passed last year shortened the runoff period, early voters were crammed into fewer days. The law scheduled runoff day four weeks after the general election, a change from the nine-week gap in previous runoffs.

Some of the longest lines were in Fulton County, which also has the state’s highest number of voters, spread across 24 early voting locations. There were 16 early polling places in DeKalb, 12 in Cobb, and 11 in Gwinnett.

Every Georgia county was required to offer five weekdays of early voting, but state law allowed counties to begin voting sooner. Thirty-four of Georgia’s 159 counties opted to begin voting last week.

After state courts upheld the ability for counties to open polling places the Saturday after Thanksgiving, over 70,000 people voted that day. Another 87,000 voters cast ballots last Sunday.

ExploreAJC vote tracker: Early voting turnout in Georgia's runoff

While no ballots have been counted yet, more people have voted in counties that supported Warnock than Walker, according to state election data. But Republicans outnumbered Democrats on election day in last month’s election.

During the general election, Warnock won 54% of early and absentee votes, while Walker received 56% of election-day votes.

The quick runoff left little time for voters to receive and return absentee ballots, which will be counted if they’re delivered to county election offices before polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The absentee ballot return deadline is Friday for military and overseas voters, as well as for Cobb County voters because of delays in mailing ballots to those who requested them by Nov. 26.

Over 136,000 absentee ballots have been returned to county election offices so far, and 82,000 ballots are still pending.

Georgians can find voting locations and sample ballots through the state’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov.