2M already voted; polls close 7 pm ET

Georgia voters are once again left with the final say in how Congress will look as the nation watches the Senate runoff race between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. 

Democrats have already secured the upper chamber’s majority with victories in other states, but that doesn’t mean nothing is at stake Tuesday.

For starters, Georgia’s special election will determine whether the chamber remains evenly split at 50-50, which proved to be a difficult tightrope for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

If Warnock wins, the 51-seat majority gives Senate Democrats control of committees and frees them from leaning on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes.

Georgia Senate runoff: Football icon Herschel Walker, Sen. Raphael Warnock clash in runoff election

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But if Walker prevails that keeps the pressure on Democrats to remain united.

It also gives their caucuses moderate to conservative-leaning senators more power in terms of close judicial nominations or other important administrative confirmations.

Here’s the latest:

Walker supporters arrive at Election Night watch party

The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta was bustling with journalists Tuesday around 5:30 p.m., as they took their places for Herschel Walker’s watch party.

The former UGA standout’s football legacy is enshrined there. Walker was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Walker’s watch party is officially set to begin at 7 p.m., and campaign staffers said other guests of Walker should start to arrive around then.

USA TODAY Network Georgia reporters will be providing updates from both Walker’s watch party and Incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock’s watch party throughout the night.

— Will Peebles

For progressives, Georgia could be a Manchin-Sinema ‘insurance policy’

Georgia’s runoff won’t change which party controls the Senate, but progressive activists have one big reason for wanting Democrats to get a 51-seat majority on Tuesday.

Those at the grassroots level told USA TODAY that taking Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—two more conservative-leaning members of the caucus—down a notch is a major motivation.

“It does give you a little bit of insurance policy,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, an Atlanta-based voting rights group, said.

“For Georgia voters, for some Black Georgia voters in particular, they’re very much aware of that,” he added. “They view getting this seat to getting closer to making those two less relevant.”

— Phillip M. Bailey

What is a runoff election?:Georgians head to the polls for Warnock v. Walker round two.

Early voting updates

Final data from election night won’t be available for a while, but Georgia has been updating the early voting data in real time.

Before election day, Georgia had accepted about 175,000 absentee ballots and 1.7 million people had voted early in person – a total of 1.89 million ballots, or 27% of registered voters.

White voters had the highest number of votes among early voters, but Black voters had slightly higher early voting turnout at 29.5% – a full percentage point higher than white voters. About 10% of voters under 30 voted early, while 49.5% of registered voters 65 and above had already voted by election day.

– Abraham Kenmore

Dems look to young voters for Warnock’s success

Maxwell Frost, Democratic Representative-elect and the first Gen. Z member of Congress, appeared on the University of Georgia campus today to encourage students there to go vote.

«I gotta tell y’all… I’m feeling really good about the youth turnout in Georgia,» Frost wrote in a tweet.

Voters 29 and under had a large turnout earlier this year in the general election, with the second highest participation rate in decades. A majority of these voters cast their ballots for Democrats in November.

— Savannah Kuchar

Walker, Warnock make final pitch to voters

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Republican challenger Herschel Walker barnstormed Georgia Tuesday in their final stops of a long midterm campaign cycle, with both of them stressing the importance of high turnout.

That was especially true in parts of the state where rain was in the forecast.

“Rain is not an excuse to not vote. Rain is not an excuse to not show up,” Warnock said in a video Tuesday shared thousands of times on social media. “If you stand with me, I will stand with you – in the rain, in the snow, in the sleet, the hail. I’ll show up for you every time.”

Walker, who has been buoyed by his football fame, said he loves “winning championships” and predicted a victory for himself in Georgia, focusing on turnout Tuesday. “I love y’all, and we’re gonna win this election.”

— Candy Woodall

No Donald Trump sightings in Georgia runoff

The Georgia Senate runoff has come and nearly gone, with one notable absence: Donald Trump.

Trump never did travel to Georgia to campaign for protege Herschel Walker, much to the relief of Republicans who said the former president would have probably done more harm than good – as appeared to have happened during runoff races in the state in early 2021.

In midterms election a month ago, Trump-backed, election-denying Republicans lost key Senate and other statewide races in important states like Arizona and Pennsylvania.

This time around in Georgia, Trump was relegated to a «tele-rally» for Walker on Monday night and posts on Truth Social.

«To the Great State of Georgia, Get Out and Vote for the WONDERFUL Herschel Walker,» Trump posted.

– David Jackson

Gov. Kemp continues raising support for Walker

Gov. Brian Kemp encouraged Georgia voters to go out and vote for Herschel Walker, as he said he already had, in a video posted to Twitter this morning.

«We got to have a big turnout today to win this thing. Let’s get it done and send someone like Herschel to the United State Senate that is going to fight for us,» Kemp said in the forty-second video.

During his own campaign for reelection earlier this year, Kemp kept more distance between himself and Walker, not publicly supporting the Republican Senate candidate the way he has since Nov. 8. He made his first appearance with Walker on Nov. 19 during a rally northwest of Atlanta.

With Walker coming into today polling slightly behind his opponent, his best shot at success may very well be Kemp. The popular governor could help mobilize voters, especially more moderate Republicans, who did not turn out for Walker a month ago.

— Savannah Kuchar

Who is Herschel Walker?  

Republican challenger Herschel Walker is a former college and National Football League player. The 60-year-old Georgia native entered the race for Senate as one of former President Donald Trump’s hand-selected candidates. The George Senate race is Walker’s first political campaign.  

A staunch anti-abortion rights candidate, Walker faced controversy just weeks before the general election when an ex-girlfriend told the Daily Beast he had paid for her abortion in 2009 and later urged her to have a second one. Walker denied her allegations, along with those from a second woman who said she was also pressured by the Senate candidate to have an abortion. 

Walker has maintained a strict position against abortion access, including in cases of rape or incest, identifying himself as “pro-life” on his campaign website.  He has run on a platform of energy independence as a means to reduce oil and gas prices, along with saying he will «defend, not defund, the police.»  

— Rachel Looker, Savannah Kuchar 

How much has been spent on runoff election?  

The Georgia Senate race is the most expensive race of the midterm season, according to OpenSecrets.

Super PACs spent nearly $16 million more on Warnock than his Republican challenger Herschel Walker ahead of the runoff election, spending more than $40 million on expenses like advertisements supporting Warnock or opposing Walker. Other PACs spent more than $24 million supporting Walker or opposing Warnock, according to filings reported to the Federal Elections Commission. 

Money is mainly being used to purchase TV ads, digital and online communications and on-the-ground canvassing. 

— Rachel Looker, Mabinty Quarshie, Erin Mansfield  

Why is there a runoff election? And could tonight’s runoff go to a recount?

On election night, Sen. Raphael Warnock was up about 1 percentage point over Herschel Walker – not enough to avoid a runoff, with the Libertarian drawing 2% of the vote, but enough to avoid a recount in Georgia.

According to Georgia’s recount law, losing candidates have the right to a recount from the secretary of state if they are within half a percentage point of the winner after the results are certified.

There is also a procedure if an election administrator or candidate believes that there has been an error in the count. If a candidate requests a recount due to an error, it will happen at the discretion of the secretary of state.

– Abraham Kenmore

Early voting:Appeals court rejects challenge to Saturday early voting in Georgia’s Warnock vs. Walker runoff

Georgia election: DOJ to monitor Georgia runoff

The Justice Department will monitor polls in four Georgia counties Tuesday as voters cast their ballots in the Senate runoff election, the last remaining contest in the 2022 midterms.

Justice regularly dispatches monitors as a guard against voting rights violations. And on Tuesday, monitors from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorneys’ offices will be deployed to Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Macon-Bibb counties.

Complaints involving possible violations can be made on the department’s website or by telephone at 800-253-3931.

– Kevin Johnson

What is a runoff election?:Georgians head to the polls for Warnock v. Walker round two.

Georgia GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan: Herschel Walker one of the ‘worst Republican candidates’ in party history  

Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who was elected in 2018, told CBS news that he would not be voting for Walker.  

“I think Herschel Walker will probably go down as one of the worst Republican candidates in our party’s history,” he told CBS News last week.

“I think I’ve got kids probably that could articulate the conservative platform better than some of the candidates that Donald Trump and his group supported all across the country,” he added.  

– Rachel Looker

What to know about the Georgia runoff:When is the Georgia runoff election? Voters will head to the polls today.

What is a runoff election? 

Similar to a political tiebreaker, a runoff election is a second contest held when no candidate wins the majority of votes in a general election.  

In Georgia, runoffs are held four weeks after a general election when the top two candidates did not earn more than 50% of the vote. A candidate has to earn the majority of votes to win in a runoff election.  

Both Georgia Senate candidates Walker and Warnock did not meet the 50% vote threshold on Nov. 8, with Warnock leading Walker by more than 30,000 votes – earning 49.4% of total votes. Walker earned 48.5% and the remaining 2.1% went to libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, triggering the runoff.  

Anyone who is registered to vote can cast a ballot in a runoff election. 

– Rachel Looker 

Who is Sen. Raphael Warnock? 

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, 53, was first elected to Congress in 2020 after winning a special election runoff to fill a vacant seat. Born in Savannah, Georgia, the senator has served as a pastor for over 16 years at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former church of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Warnock has dubbed himself a «pro-choice pastor,» according to his campaign website, and has criticized the Supreme Court for overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. 

The Democratic incumbent has emphasized the need to fight for criminal justice reform measures while funding the police. He is an advocate for Medicaid expansion and capping the cost of insulin and prescriptions. 

Warnock believes access to education shouldn’t depend on zip codes and has advocated to lower the cost of higher education, fighting for student loan forgiveness.  

– Rachel Looker 

Warnock vs. Walker: From toss-up to leans Democratic

Polls continue to show Warnock and Walker locked in a tight race that could go either way, but some political forecasters are giving the Democrats an edge.

The Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, a newsletter that analyzes campaigns, moved Georgia from a «toss-up» to «leans Democratic» state on Monday.

It noted that Georgia remains a competitive state, but that «most indicators point to a Warnock advantage» including the early voting data and that Democrats are heavily outspending Republicans.

«If Warnock ends up winning… we can all agree on one thing: He will have certainly earned a full term. Over the span of 2 years, Warnock ran a gauntlet of 4 high-stakes races,» J. Miles Coleman, an associate editor of the newsletter, said.

— Phillip M. Bailey

Warnock vs. Walker: Saturday voting and runoff timeframe

Georgia was embroiled in one of the more controversial voting rights battles the Republican-controlled state legislature changed the election rules in early 2021.

Among the biggest changes that had an impact on the Dec. 6 special election under the measure, known as SB 202, was shortening the runoff election from nine weeks to four weeks, and cutting early voting from 17 days to five. 

Another fight created by the new law was over Saturday voting.

Initially, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office suggested Georgia counties had the option to provide Saturday voting on Nov. 26.

But later the office said there would be no Saturday voting, citing its interpretation of SB 202, which prevents early in-person voting being held on any Saturday that comes after a holiday on a Thursday or Friday.

Democrats, including the Warnock campaign, pounced on Raffensperger’s office and quickly filed suit against the decision. A judge, and eventually an appeals court, ruled against the GOP in court and allowed voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

— Phillip M. Bailey

Obama and Warnock:Obama paints GOP as party of ‘Looney Tunes’ as he campaigns for Warnock ahead of Georgia runoff

Road to 2024: Biden recommends South Carolina go first in Democratic primary process, replacing Iowa

Georgia election: Nearly 2 million have already voted

Over the past two years Georgia voters have had a marathon of contests – the 2020 presidential election, two separate 2021 Senate runoff contests and the 2022 midterms.

But if the early voting numbers are any indication the Peach State is just as engaged for the Dec. 6 runoff as any other contest.

According to the secretary of state’s office, more than 1.8 million Georgians have already voted.

Last Friday, the last day for early voting, more than 350,000 Georgians cast a ballot, shattering the one-day record for early voting. 

«Georgia is a national leader in voter access and security,» Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement.

«We are having historic levels of turnout and those who want to vote are voting- we believe this level of voter participation is excellent, and we’ll keep working with counties to encourage them to open more early voting locations in the future.» 

— Phillip M. Bailey

Georgia runoff election: Polls opened at 7 a.m.

Polling places in Georgia’s 159 counties opened at 7 a.m. for the Dec. 6 runoff, and will close at 7:00 p.m.

As in most state, if a person is line by 7:00 p.m., they are allowed to cast your ballot.

— Phillip M. Bailey

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