Early Voting Begins in Some Georgia Counties for Key Senate Seat

Early voting began for some Georgia counties on Saturday ahead of next month’s hotly contested runoff election between Senator Raphael Warnock and his Trump-endorsed challenger Herschel Walker.

Georgia law requires candidates to receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win an election, and neither Warnock nor Walker did so during the November 8 midterms. Warnock, a Democrat, won about 49.4 percentage points, while Walker, a Republican, won about 48.5 percent of the vote, with libertarian Chase Oliver winning the remainder vote.

Now, Warnock and Walker will face each other in a head-to-head matchup in a runoff election, held between the two candidates who received the highest percentage of the vote.

Georgia’s election will be held on December 6, but early voting in some counties began on Saturday as both men work to convince their base to turn out to deliver a win for their party while facing threats of diminished voter turnout.

Early voting begins in Georgia Senate runoff
Above, a split image of Senator Raphael Warnock (left) and Herschel Walker (right). Early voting in Georgia’s Senate runoff election began on Saturday in some counties. One expert told “Newsweek” that the extra two days are unlikely to change the outcome of the race, but Warnock could benefit.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images and Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Several counties are allowing constituents to vote over the weekend following an order from Georgia’s Supreme Court last week. Several of these counties are located near Atlanta. The capital city’s booming population growth, alongside its Democratic-trending suburbs, has powered a transformation in the once-reliably Republican state into competitive territory.

Atlanta-area counties allowing Saturday voting include Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties, according to Vote411.

Chatham County, home to Savannah, and Muscogee County, home to Columbus, are also allowing early voting. Several smaller counties are also allowing residents to vote on Saturday including: Bibb, Burke, Clark, Crawford, Mitchell, Randolph, Screven, Terrell, Troup, Walton and Ware counties, according to Vote411.

Cherokee, Clayton, Floyd, Lowndes and Richmond counties allow early voting on Sunday, while the rest of the state can begin voting on Monday.

Jeffrey Lazarus, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, told Newsweek on Saturday that the makeup of the counties allowing early voting skew Democrat, meaning Warnock could net a few thousand votes this weekend.

Still, one or two days of early voting probably will not give either candidate a significant edge as the election nears, according to Lazarus.

“When you’re looking at millions of voters across the entire state, one day of early voting’s probably not going to make a big difference,” he said. “For people in counties that don’t have the early voting on Saturday, they’ll find another day sometime in the next week to go out and vote.”

Democrats Typically Benefit From Early Voting

Throughout recent elections, Democrats have typically been more prone to use early voting than Republicans, as GOP leaders have urged them to hold off casting their votes until Election Day, citing election security concerns. Georgia is no exception to this national trend, Lazarus said.

He added that he was not surprised so many rural, Republican-leaning counties did not grant residents the extra two days of extra voting. He explained that early voting used to previously benefit Republican-leaning constituencies including rural and overseas military voters.

The partisan divide on early voting stems from former President Donald Trump seeing “COVID as an opportunity to drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans over absentee ballots,” Lazarus said, adding that voters in larger cities wanted absentee voting to avoid standing in large lines at the height of the pandemic.

What Polls Say About the Runoff Election

With less than two weeks until the Georgia runoff, polling on the race remains scant, even though the election has been seen as one of the most important Senate elections of the 2022 midterms.

An AARP poll released Tuesday found a modest lead for Warnock, who received 51 percent of respondents’ support compared to Walker’s 47 percent. Another 2 percent remained undecided. The poll was conducted on behalf of AARP by Fabrizio Ward & Impact Research. It surveyed 500 likely voters statewide from November 11 to 17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Democrats are hoping a Warnock victory could shore up their Senate majority heading into 2024—when they have to defend Senate seats in GOP-leaning states like Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. Democrats won a majority, sweeping competitive races in Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Nevada earlier this month.

Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping a Walker win could give them a boost following an underwhelming midterm. Despite President Joe Biden‘s low approval ratings, Republicans failed to win a Senate majority and only narrowly eked out control of the House of Representatives.

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