This post updated to reflect Ossoff’s official win on Wednesday afternoon.
Rev. Raphael Warnock is going to Washington after an historic electoral victory fueled by a new wave of voters stretching from Coastal Georgia, across the Black Belt to Atlanta eager for a representative who looks like them and understands their struggles at a time of national crisis.
Warnock gave a victory speech early Tuesday morning saying he would work on behalf of the whole state, even those who voted for incumbent Kelly Loeffler, the Atlanta-based businesswoman whose campaign attempted to paint the Savannah native as a radical Baptist preacher out of touch with Georgia values.
As vote counts rolled in overnight, people around the state – but especially in Georgia’s growing urban and suburban areas – made their mark for the policies that Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old from Atlanta, said they represent: better healthcare, increased minimum wage and more targeted help for economically insure Georgians.
David Perdue, Georgia’s senior Republican Senator, criticized this platform, calling it a recipe for chaos and “socialism.” As of Wednesday, Ossoff had declared victory over Perdue, with his campaign figuring that he had an unassailable lead while counties continued to tabulate thousands of absentee ballots.
Voters like Olivia Scott, a student at Savannah Arts Academy, who turned 18 on Tuesday and said she was honored to vote for the first time as part of the historic trend that has changed Georgia from a reliable conservative Republican state to a political swing state.
“This election matters to me because my state Georgia has a chance to flip the Senate, which is huge” Scott said. “It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to vote knowing my ancestors fought tirelessly for African Americans and women to have equal opportunity to vote.”
The state must formally certify Tuesday’s election before Jan. 22, and the next two weeks are likely to see a bevy of legal action by state and national Republicans. Until then, Loeffler remains in her seat, although Perdue’s tenure ended on Sunday.
Once he takes office, Warnock will will face re-election in two years — his new seat was vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson last year and Loeffler was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill his position until this election.
Ossoff was declared a winner Wednesday afternoon and will fill a full six-year term. He will also make history as the state’s first Jewish senator.
Ballots still being counted
Meanwhile, vote counts continue for an important state race for Public Service Commission District 4.
Incumbent PSC commissioner Lauren Bubba McDonald holds a marginally larger lead over Daniel Blackman. See the current counts here.
While a little more than 99% of the state’s precincts have reported, there are still thousands of votes left to be counted in various counties, including the larger counties of Chatham, Bibb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Cobb. Other counties with votes yet to clear are Appling, Camden, Coffee, Douglas, Floyd, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Henry, Houston, Lumpkin, Newton, and Pickens. Military mail-in, absentee and other ballots are yet to be counted.
In Chatham, there were 115,879 ballots cast for a tentative turnout of more than 55.7%. Starting at 10 a.m., officials will have 3,000 to 4,000 absentee ballots left to count in addition to the military and other ballots. Some of those can arrive as late as Friday to be counted. In Chatham, more people voted Tuesday in the runoff — 45,314 — than on the General Election Day, Nov. 3, when 37,475 came to the polls.
In Liberty County turnout was down compared to November — but Democrats came out in strong numbers after a sustained and enthusiastic campaign by local party organizers to get out the vote in the majority minority area. As of early Wednesday, Ossoff was winning by 64.57%, a 3 percentage point gain over his Nov. 3 results of 61.24% over Perdue. Warnock, who campaigned across Liberty County in December, won with 64.76%
Voter’s positive test doesn’t delay voting
Voting day was largely peaceful across the state — but it’s wasn’t totally free of drama.
A voter who said they were positive for COVID-19 showed up to cast their ballot Tuesday at a Chatham County poll.
The voter alerted the poll manager at Rice Creek School that they were positive for COVID-19, per the county’s protocol, Board of Elections Chairman Tom Mahoney said.
“People who have COVID are allowed to vote,” he said. “We ask that they let the poll know they have COVID and the line will be stopped. People will be allowed to finish voting and the person who has COVID is allowed to vote. We clean the machines behind them and allow people to come and vote.”
It took a half hour for the person with COVID-19 to vote and for the equipment to be disinfected, he said. Democrat party representatives originally asked to extend polling hours for the delay, but later relented when it appeared that there were no problems for other voters, Mahoney said.
Meanwhile, two Chatham County polling places were delayed and a judge ordered them to remain open until about 7:30 p.m., a half hour after polls closed.
The poll at the Old Courthouse in downtown Savannah opened late for voting Tuesday because elections workers were unable to get into the building.
At Beach High School, a poll worker tripped over a cord that was charging the poll pads. The worker was unaware that the cord had come unplugged from the electrical outlet, Caity Hamilton with the Board of Elections said. The batteries eventually died and had to be recharged.
Margaret Coker, Laura Corley and Susan Catron contributed to this report.