ATLANTA – This week we find ourselves in a familiar place – waiting for Georgia to count the votes.
With control of the US Senate at stake, all eyes are on a second election that pits Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Millions of dollars have poured in, Georgians have been bombarded with ads and messages urging them to vote, and both sides have sent their heavy hitters to help voters turn out.
Some things to keep in mind as the polls close Tuesday night:
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Perdue got about 88,000 more votes than Ossoff in the general election, but a Libertarian candidate's 115,000 votes prevented him from surpassing the 50% it takes to win. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the Senate in December 2019 after Senator Johnny Isakson resigned. She and Warnock ran in a special election of 20 candidates to serve the two remaining years of Isakson's term. Warnock got 1.6 million votes, while Loeffler got nearly 1.3 million and Republican US Representative Doug Collins came in third with nearly a million votes.
WHEN DOES THE COUNTING OF BALLOTS BEGIN?
The polls close at 7pm. EST on Election Day, and then the ballot count can begin. Absentee ballots must be received before the polls close to be counted. Military and overseas ballots that are postmarked on Tuesday and received on Friday are counted, and absent voters also have until Friday to resolve any issues so their votes can be counted.
Ballots, including absentee ballots, received before election day, may be counted until polls close. But a state election council rule requires county election officials to start processing absentee ballots before election day – verifying the signatures on the outer envelope, opening the envelopes, and scanning the ballots. That should speed things up on election night. Even so, some ballots are received by post or in drop boxes if you are absent until 7 p.m. on election day has yet to be processed.
DO WE KNOW THE WINNER AT THE ELECTION EVENING?
As in November, it is entirely possible for Americans to go to bed without knowing who won. All indicators point to the likelihood of very tight margins in both races.
Media organizations, including The Associated Press, often announce winners on election night based on the results received, voter surveys and other political data.
But in a tight race, more of the votes may need to be counted before the AP can name a winner.
THE LEADERSHIP CAN SHIFT VERY WELL IF THE VOTES ARE COUNTED
In an exciting competition, look for the Republican candidate to get an early lead. That's because of two factors: First, Republican parts of the state usually report their results first. Second, Republican voters are more likely to vote in person, either on election day or during the early voting period. Many provinces release these personal results first.
Meanwhile, heavily democratic counties, including Fulton, DeKalb and Chatham counties, have historically taken longer to count votes. Democratic candidates could also be running late due to post ballots counted late, which in November strongly favored Ossoff and Warnock, as well as Joe Biden.
In November, Perdue had a lead of about 380,000 votes over Ossoff at 10 p.m. EST on election night. But Perdue's lead eventually fell below 90,000.
In a very tight race it can take several days to determine a winner. In November, more than 5 percent of the vote in Georgia was counted after noon the day after election day. At the time, Donald Trump led Biden by 100,000 votes in a race that Biden eventually won after all post votes were counted.
GEORGIA HAS DONE MANY BALLOT COUNTS ON THIS ELECTION CYCLE
That's true and the trend could continue with the runoff. Under Georgian law, the losing candidate has the right to request a recount if the margin between the candidates is less than 0.5%. That would be done by running the ballots through the scanners again, as happened when President Donald Trump asked for a recount after the results showed he lost by about 12,000 votes to Biden.
But it's not likely we'll see a full recount like the one for the presidential race in the general election. This was caused by the requirement that one race must be checked by hand. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger chose to audit the presidential race, saying the small margin in that race required a full recount. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said the audit requirement does not apply to second elections.
Associated Press writer Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed to this report.
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