Again? Georgia Senate runoff winners may not be known tonight

Georgia secretary of state on election integrity during Senate runoffs

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger discusses how the state has prepared for the Senate races.

It could be déjà vu in Georgia, as the state on Tuesday holds twin Senate runoff elections that will determine if the Republicans keep their majority in the chamber or if the Democrats control both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

Two months after the presidential election results in Georgia and a handful of other key battleground states went into overtime, with the races not called in some cases until four days after Election Day, there’s a good chance it could happen again in the runoff contests.

"We can expect a very, very, close election," veteran Georgia based GOP consultant Chip Lake told Fox News. "An election that might be so close that we might not know who won these races on Tuesday night. It could be a few days after that until all the votes are counted."

People check in as they prepare to cast their vote in the Georgia runoff election at C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on Jan. 5, 2021, in Atlanta, Ga. Polls have opened across Georgia in the two runoff elections, pitting incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler against Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

In the general election, 4.9 million people cast ballots, shattering the Peach State’s previous turnout record.

Fast forward two months and the state’s breaking a turnout record for runoff contests.

More than 3 million people, or two-fifths (40%) of the state’s registered voters, have already cast a ballot in the runoffs, either through early in-person voting or by absentee ballot. And anywhere from 800,000 to possibly over a million people will vote on Election Day.

"I anticipate there will be a high turnout," Gabriel Sterling , the voting systems implementation manager for the Georgia secretary of state's office, told reporters on Monday.

The heavy turnout both before and on Election Day is once again forming a perfect storm that could put Americans back in a familiar place – not knowing when they go to sleep on Tuesday night whether Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelley Loeffler won reelection or if Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeated the GOP incumbents.

The polls in Georgia are scheduled to close at 7 p.m. ET on Election Day, and that’s when ballot counting is allowed to begin. Absentee ballots must be received by the poll-closing time to be counted. There is an exception for military and overseas ballots. If they’re postmarked by Tuesday and received by Friday, they will be counted. And absentee voters have until Friday to fix problems with their ballots so their votes can be counted.

While absentee ballots received ahead of Election Day can’t be counted until the polls close, county election officials were allowed to begin processing those ballots in advance. That includes verifying signatures on the outer envelope of the ballot, opening the envelopes, and scanning the ballots.

We could see the leads in the twin Senate contests shift after the polls close and the counting begins – which is what happened in the state’s White House race between President Trump and President-elect Joe Biden.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections at a senior center, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Acworth, Ga. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

Trump was ahead of Biden by roughly 100,000 votes in Georgia the morning after the November election, but as more votes were counted, the president’s lead deteriorated and Biden eventually won the state by nearly 12,000 votes, a margin that was upheld in two ensuing recounts and certified by the state.

Perdue and Loeffler could also jump out to an early lead Tuesday night for a couple of reasons. Republican areas of the state often report their results first, and Republican voters were more likely to vote on Election Day or at early in-person polling stations. Those votes are often counted first by many of Georgia’s counties.

Heavily Democratic counties — including in Atlanta and the surrounding inner suburbs — have traditionally seen slower in vote counting and election results. And since more Democrats than Republicans were expected to vote by absentee ballot, late returned ballots, which would be counted after in-person and Election Day votes, would likely favor Ossoff and Warnock.

One more thing to remember: If the final margins in either of the contests are within 0.5% of the vote, the losing candidate under Georgia law has the right to ask for a recount.

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