News, Politics

Tumultuous Year For Georgia Elections Spills Into 2021 With Crucial Senate Runoffs

Polls close Tuesday at 7 p.m., but with more than 960,000 absentee votes cast for the runoffs, it's not clear how long it will take to declare winners in the race.
Polls close Tuesday at 7 p.m., but with more than 960,000 absentee votes cast for the runoffs, it's not clear how long it will take to declare winners in the race.
Credit Emil Moffatt/WABE
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DeKalb County resident Porchse Miller was happy in November when a Democrat carried Georgia for the first time since 1992. And she was eager to cast a vote in the runoff elections on the first day she could, Dec. 14th.

“It’s time to make a change, and we’re gonna keep our foot on the gas,” said Miller.

The runoff elections Tuesday will decide control of the U.S. Senate. Miller spent her day Saturday canvassing at a Get Out the Vote Rally in Clayton County.

A record three million votes have already been cast in the runoffs, despite lingering doubts by some about what happened in November.

Many supporters of President Donald Trump have questioned the results of the November elections, which the president lost to Joe Biden by just under 12,000 votes. Trump continues to make unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud. That’s lead to increased attention and scrutiny on this runoff election.

For her part, Miller says, she doesn’t shy away from the extra eyeballs on the process.

“I feel that it’s necessary to have people watching the polls making sure all votes are counted, making sure all mail ballots are counted,” she said.

Roller Coaster Year For Elections

The state’s new Dominion voting machines were supposed to be the big story of the 2020 election cycle, but the pandemic took over instead. The primaries were delayed twice, and when they were eventually held in June, large counties struggled to find experienced poll workers and suitable polling places.

The August runoffs and the November general elections smoothed out, thanks to expanded early voting sites, in-person training and an increase in the use of mail-in ballots.

The drama in November didn’t start until after Election Day when President Trump’s advantage faded as all of 1.3 million absentee ballots continued to be counted. Biden took the lead early on Nov. 6. He was declared the winner by the Associated Press after an audit involving a hand recount of ballots. The Biden victory was certified by the state a second time after a machine recount confirmed his narrow win.

Senate Runoff Intersects With Election Challenge

Dozens of GOP lawmakers, including several from Georgia, are making a last-ditch attempt to overturn the November election on Wednesday in Washington. That’s when a joint session of Congress meets to vote on accepting the Electoral College results.

Court challenges to the November election in several states, including Georgia, have fallen flat.

Former counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, appeared with Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on a fly-around tour of Georgia on Monday. She encouraged Georgians to vote on Tuesday, despite continued baseless claims by Trump that the November election was “a sham.”

“Lift up your voices, get out and vote,” said Conway. “Call people who hate politics, call people who you haven’t talked about politics [with] in a long time, get them to the polls tomorrow. Volunteer to drive people.”

Gabriel Sterling with the Secretary of State’s office spent nearly a half-hour debunking claims of voter fraud in the November presidential election. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Meanwhile, Georgia election officials spent Monday pushing back against misinformation about the November presidential race.

It came just days after a phone call in which President Trump urged those officials to overturn the results.

Gabriel Sterling, with the secretary of state’s office, spent almost a half-hour Monday afternoon, debunking false claims made by the president and his allies. Sterling said investigations into double voters, dead people voting, felons voting and underage people voting numbered in the dozens, not the hundreds of thousands as Trump claims.

As for the president’s conspiracy theories about voting machines flipping votes, Sterling pointed to two complete recounts of all five million ballots.

“Which shows that the machines scanned properly, our counties did a great job of following these batches and doing the hand count, properly, appropriately, with scrutiny and with observers,” said Sterling.

Sterling said misinformation from the highest levels was hurting voter confidence ahead of Tuesday’s critical U.S. Senate runoff elections.

“If you want your values reflected by your elected officials, I strongly beg and encourage you: go vote tomorrow,” Sterling said. “Do not let anyone discourage, do not self-suppress your own vote.”

Polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, but it’s unclear exactly how long it will take for definitive results to come in. Counties have accepted more than 960,000 absentee ballots for this runoff election. Even though counties were given a mandate from the state to begin processing those ballots no later than Dec. 28, counties still could face a backlog.

A Public Service Commission runoff is also on the ballot, featuring Republican incumbent Bubba McDonald and Democratic challenger Daniel Blackman.