Georgians endured back-to-back-to-back television commercials, mailboxes stuffed with campaign flyers, telephone calls at dinnertime and text messages day and night — all trying to convince them David Perdue is a crook, Jon Ossoff is a tool of Communist China, Kelly Loeffler cares only about Kelly Loeffler, and Raphael Warnock is a radical Marxist who doesn’t really like puppies.
But as voters finally had their say Tuesday in runoffs for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, many seemed less energized than worn down by the months-long slog that finally concluded the 2020 elections.
Sara Underwood of Atlanta described herself as both “super-excited that it’s over” and “exhausted.”
“I’m just really done,” Underwood said.
Francisco Martin agreed that the campaign had been taxing to his spirit.
“I hope whoever wins is going to represent what we need,” Martin said after voting at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marietta. “We need healing, understanding and hope.”
But on a day that focused national attention on Georgia, with two consequential elections taking place simultaneously, interviews across metro Atlanta and in other regions of the state found many voters in a foul mood.
“Nothing about the incumbents really has made me happy at all,” said Andrew Deihl, who sometimes supports Republicans but voted Tuesday for both Democratic candidates.
“Just ready for some change,” Deihl said.
Divisiveness extended beyond the candidates and their politics to the very integrity of the electoral process.
President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat — and his embrace of conspiracy theories that allege widespread election fraud — resonated with many Georgians who don’t believe President-elect Joe Biden carried the state, the first Democrat to win Georgia in 28 years.
“I’m really concerned about our country right now,” said Dina Poindexter of Dalton, who voted at Dug Gap Baptist Church in rural Whitfield County. “I think the voter fraud and that type of stuff is very scary to me when our elections, I feel like, have been compromised.”
At the North Cobb Senior Center on Tuesday, Paula Youngblood said she voted for the Republican incumbents, Loeffler and Perdue, to keep the Senate in GOP hands. But asked whether she thought her vote counted, she shrugged.
“Who knows?” Youngblood said. “I voted, and that’s all you can do.”
Fatigue — and obligation
Ashley Stanford, who lives in Atlanta’s Sylvan Hills neighborhood, would have had no excuse for missing the runoffs. She received more than a dozen texts just on Monday reminding her to vote on Tuesday.
“We were excited to be a battleground state,” Stanford said. “But we didn’t know what all that entailed.”
The deluge of campaign solicitations weighed on many voters, especially after a yearlong campaign season that, for Georgia, didn’t end in November.
At Lakeside High School in DeKalb County, Mimi Rodgers said she was fatigued by the repeated elections and the ubiquitous campaign solicitations.
“I lost my cool this morning,” Rodgers said. On Tuesday alone, before she headed to the polls, she received 15 calls and texts asking her to vote.
Despite their weariness, many went to the polls out of a sense of civic obligation.
“Since it’s such a contentious vote, it’s important for everyone to have their voice be heard,” DeKalb County voter Julia Castanet said.
Others wanted to send the Democratic challengers, Ossoff and Warnock, to Washington at least in part as a rebuke to Trump.
Leaving her polling place at Duluth City Hall, Pamela Thompson said she was happy to see the election end “because I think the current president has really undermined our system of voting.”
“And,” she said, “I am really ready to get rid of the negativity.”
She isn’t sure that will happen right away, though.
“The only thing that’s going to bring us together is time and focused leadership,” Thompson said.
In Peachtree Corners, Courtney Jefferson said the coronavirus pandemic gave him even more motivation than usual to vote. His grandfather died of COVID-19 in June, and Jefferson thinks Democrats can do a better job taming the pandemic.
He also thinks many Republicans agree with him.
“They might not be saying it out loud, but the ballots are showing it,” Jefferson said. “It feels like I’m on the right side of history.”
In Georgia’s Republican strongholds, particularly in rural areas, voters said keeping Perdue and Loeffler in office would help hold Democrats in check.
“It’s important for the country,” voter Miriam Shatterly said in Morgan County, about 50 miles east of Atlanta. “I don’t want the Democrats to have complete power. It’s scary.”
In the November election, about 7 in 10 Morgan County voters supported Trump, an Air Force veteran named John Phillips among them.
Phillips believes the election was stolen from Trump. He no longer trusts Gov. Brian Kemp or Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans who have drawn Trump’s wrath for not helping him overturn Georgia’s results.
And Phillips doubted that what he called Georgia’s “totally screwed up” voting system would accurately count ballots in the runoffs.
Still, Phillips and his wife, Shannon, cast ballots on Tuesday, supporting the Republican incumbents.
“Look,” he said, “we’re losing our country.”
In northwest Georgia’s Gordon County, Joanna Elrod didn’t hesitate in voting for Perdue and Loeffler.
“I am very pro-life and very pro-gun and pro-family,” she said, “so I will always vote for whoever I think the best candidate is.”
A Trump supporter, Elrod was undeterred by allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, which led some of the president’s backers to call for a boycott of the runoffs.
“I still feel like I need to do my responsibility,” Elrod said, “and vote for who I feel like and who I feel like God wants me to vote for.”
Despite the partisan rancor, the pandemic, the struggling economy and the relentless campaigning, some voters remained optimistic.
In Marietta, Zaki Ali said the pandemic was on his mind as he cast his ballot.
“For me, health care is a big thing, stimulus checks coming, just making sure America is OK because we’ve been going through COVID for so long,” said Ali, a student at Georgia State University who voted for Ossoff and Warnock.
Ashleigh Keener, who voted for Loeffler and Perdue, also thinks the country can bind its partisan wounds.
“We all want the very best for the country,” Keener said. “I think we’re at an impasse right now, but I think we’re going to get through it.”
A similar sentiment brought Gabriela Guzman-Simon to vote at the Best Friend Park Gymnasium in Gwinnett County just minutes after the doors opened, her 5-year-old sister in tow.
“I’m a first-generation American, so I see it as an opportunity and a privilege to vote,” Guzman-Simon said.
She didn’t want to say how she voted. But she said she was both enthusiastic and hopeful about how the runoffs would turn out.
She expects “change,” she said, and “to see America become better.”
Staff writers J.D. Capelouto, Kristal Dixon, Zachary Hansen, Adrianne Murchison, Jeremy Redmon, Brad Schrade, Ty Tagami, Carly Wanna and Erin Woo contributed to this article.
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