Georgians cast their ballots Tuesday in two critical races that will determine control of the US Senate and, in turn, the fate of President-elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda.
Two months after Election Day 2020, the voting will also impact Donald Trump's final days in the White House.
Even with the high stakes, state election officials reported light turnout early in the day, including across the deeply conservative region where Trump held a rally Monday night to encourage GOP voters to turn out in force. Wait times at polling sites were “almost nonexistent,” averaging about one minute statewide, said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
At issue were two Senate runoff elections, leftovers from the November general election when none of the candidates hit the 50 per cent threshold. Democrats needed to win both races to seize Senate control — and with it control of the new Congress when Biden takes office in two weeks.
Polls were to close at 7 pm
The unusual importance for the runoffs transformed Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the nation's premier battlegrounds during the final days of Trump's presidency.
Biden and Trump campaigned for their candidates in person on the eve of the election, although some Republicans fear Trump may have confused voters by continuing to make wild claims of voter fraud as he tries to undermine Biden's victory.
The Republican president attacked Raffensperger repeatedly this week and raised the prospect on Twitter that some ballots might not be counted even as votes were being cast Tuesday afternoon. There was no evidence of wrongdoing.
In Atlanta's Buckhead neighbourhood, 37-year-old Kari Callaghan said she voted “all Democrat” on Tuesday, an experience that was new for her.
“I've always been Republican, but I've been pretty disgusted by Trump and just the way the Republicans are working and especially the news this weekend about everything happening in Georgia,” she said.
“I feel like for the Republican candidates to still stand there with Trump and campaign with Trump feels pretty rotten. This isn't the conservative values that I grew up with."
But 56-year-old Will James said he voted “straight GOP." He said he was concerned by Republican candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler's recent support of Trump's challenges of the presidential election results in Georgia, "but it didn't really change the reasons I voted.”
“I believe in balance of power, and I don't want either party to have a referendum basically,” he said.
Even before Tuesday, Georgia had shattered its turnout record for a runoff with more than 3 million votes by mail or during in-person advance voting in December. The state's previous record was 2.1 million in a 2008 Senate runoff.
The early turnout was expected to benefit Democrats, as it helped Biden in November become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Republicans were counting on a big turnout on Tuesday to make up for the Democrats' perceived early vote advantage.