Why the winners in Georgia runoffs might not be known for days

By Jason Lange and Brad Heath

(Reuters) – The outcome of two Senate runoff races in Georgia might not be known for days after polls close on Tuesday.

Public opinion polls show Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have about the same level of support as their Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Following are key facts on the vote-counting process and what to expect as election returns start to come in Tuesday night.

WHY MIGHT THIS DRAG ON?

Slow counting of Georgia’s mail ballots in November’s presidential election kept the world in the dark about who won the state until three days after polls closed. Biden ended up winning the state by less than 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast.

A similar delay could unfold after Tuesday’s contests if the races are really close, said Walter Jones, a spokesman for the office of Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

“We may be looking at several days,” Jones said, adding that the delay would mostly come from mail ballots returned on Election Day.

Election officials cannot start counting ballots until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, though they have started processing them, such as checking that voter signatures on mail ballots match those on record.

Nearly 1 million mail-in ballots have been processed through Sunday, state data shows. These ballots, as well as more than 2 million cast in person at early voting centers, will likely be counted quickly on Election Night.

But for the mail votes that arrive on Election Day, officials will still need to open envelopes, check signatures and load the ballots in counting machines. They will also need to process hundreds of thousands of votes expected to be cast in person that day.

RED MIRAGE?

In November, mail ballots heavily favored Biden in Georgia and other swing states, while President Donald Trump led in votes cast in person. If more Democrats again vote by mail this time, initial results could similarly show Republicans in a lead that gives way to Democrats catching up.

The slow counting of mail ballots was a key reason why Trump took an early lead on Election Night on Nov. 3, only to trail Biden in the days that followed as more mail ballots were counted.

In the end, about a quarter of Georgia’s ballots in November were cast by mail and Biden won about two-thirds of them, state data shows. The rest were cast in person, with about 55% going to Trump.

“Initial results will generally reflect the state of the race but probably will be a little redder than what they will end up being,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

RECOUNTS

Georgia did two recounts of November’s presidential contest: a hand recount of paper ballots ordered by the state’s top election official, and a subsequent recount using computer scanners that was requested by the Trump campaign.

Georgia allows a losing candidate to force a recount if the margin of victory is less than or equal to 0.5% of the total vote in the race. A recount must be requested within two days of the results being certified by election officials.

Candidates can also request a recount if they think there has been an error in the tabulation; in that case it’s up to the secretary of state to decide whether to conduct one. Local election officials also have the power to recount results in their county before the results are certified.

(Reporting by Jason Lange and Brad Heath; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Dan Grebler)

U.S. judge orders two Georgia counties to halt voter purge ahead of Senate runoff

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Monday ordered two Georgia counties to reverse a decision removing thousands of voters from the rolls ahead of Jan. 5 runoff elections that will determine which political party controls the U.S. Senate.

The counties seemed to have improperly relied on unverified change-of-address data to invalidate registrations, the judge, Leslie Abrams Gardner, said in her order filed late on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

“Defendants are enjoined from removing any challenged voters in Ben Hill and Muscogee Counties from the registration lists on the basis of National Change of Address data”, Gardner wrote in the order. The judge is the sister of Democratic activist Stacey Abrams, who lost a race for Georgia governor in 2018.

The bulk of the registrations that the counties sought to rescind, more than 4,000 of them, were in Muscogee County, Politico reported.

An additional 150 were from Ben Hill County, the report added.

Nearly 2.1 million people have cast ballots in the U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia that will determine whether Democrats control both chambers of Congress, according to state data published Thursday.

The runoffs pit Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively.

If Republicans win one or both Senate seats in Georgia, they will retain a slim majority in the chamber.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Nearly 2.1 million have voted early in U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia

By Brad Heath

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nearly 2.1 million people have cast ballots in a U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia that will determine whether Democrats control both chambers of Congress, according to state data published Thursday.

More than a quarter of the state’s registered voters have either cast ballots early or through the mail, the state’s figures show, a sign that turnout in the pair of Senate races will be high. About 4 million Georgians voted early in the November election.

The runoffs pit Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively. The runoff election was necessary because no candidate won more than 50% of the vote on Nov. 3.

The state releases information about the number of people who voted, but does not tally their votes until election day.

About 1.3 million people voted early at in-person polling places, according to the state data. Another 721,000 sent ballots by mail. A total of about 1.3 million Georgians requested mail-in ballots.

Voting in the Senate runoffs ends on Jan. 5.

Turnout has been higher in some of the heavily populated areas around. About 30% of registered voters in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, had voted by Thursday, as had about 32% of voters in suburban DeKalb County.

(Reporting by Brad Heath; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)

Over 1.1 million ballots cast in early voting for Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -More than 1.1 million Georgians have voted in twin U.S. Senate runoff elections that will determine which party controls that chamber of Congress, state data showed on Friday.

The surge in turnout after four days of early in-person voting, and about four weeks of mail-in voting, showed that voter participation in the two races is on pace to rival the records set in the November presidential contest.

State data published on Friday showed the number of accepted ballots was just below the level seen at the same point in early voting for November’s election.

Voting in the Senate runoffs, which are taking place because no candidate won 50% support on Nov. 3, ends on Jan. 5.

Biden’s razor-thin victory in Georgia last month amid record-high turnout underscored the Southern state’s transformation from Republican stronghold to one of the country’s most competitive political battlegrounds.

A record 159 million people nationwide voted in November, up from 138 million in the November 2016 elections, according to data compiled by Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida. He estimated that nearly 67% of U.S. eligible voters voted last month, the highest share since 1900.

Signs of high turnout in January’s Senate contests in Georgia point to another squeaker, analysts said.

“This is going to be a really close election,” said McDonald, who is tracking early voting in Georgia.

He said comparing current turnout with the November cycle is tricky. It was possible that voters have crowded the polls to be done with voting ahead of the December holidays.

“It does seem to me like we’re in for a higher turnout election than is typical for a runoff,” McDonald said.

DEMOCRATS NEED SWEEP

Democrats need to win both contests to achieve a 50-50 split in the Senate. Even one Democratic loss would allow Republicans to keep a razor-thin majority.

The runoffs pit Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively. Perdue won more votes than Ossoff in November, while Warnock won more than Loeffler in a 20-candidate field that also included Republican Congressman Doug Collins. Loeffler and Collins together drew nearly 46% of the vote.

Ballots accepted through Thursday were only just below the 1.2 million that were cast at the same point in the November election, when turnout eventually totaled about 5 million votes.

Roughly 2 million votes were cast in the last runoff for a Senate seat in Georgia, when Republican Saxby Chambliss defeated Democrat Jim Martin in 2008. Nearly 4 million Georgians voted in the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

Republicans have often performed better in low-turnout elections. But voters in both parties appear energized by the stakes in the January contest and each party has poured resources into Georgia ahead of the vote.

Biden returned to the campaign trail on Tuesday to stump for Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia, and Harris will campaign for the Democrats there on Monday. Trump has also campaigned in Georgia for Perdue and Loeffler, as will his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump on Monday.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone, Mark Heinrich, Rosalba O’Brien and Dan Grebler)

Trump and 17 states back Texas bid at Supreme Court

By Jan Wolfe and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let him join a lawsuit by Texas seeking to throw out the voting results in four states, litigation that also drew support from 17 other states.

In a separate brief, lawyers for 17 states led by Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt also urged the nine justices to hear the Texas lawsuit.

Trump on Wednesday vowed to intervene in the lawsuit though he did not provide details on the nature of the intervention including whether it would be by presidential campaign or the U.S. Justice Department.

Writing on Twitter, Trump said, “We will be INTERVENING in the Texas (plus many other states) case. This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!”

The lawsuit, announced on Tuesday by the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, targeted four states.

In addition to Missouri, the states joining Texas were: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

The lawsuit was filed directly with the Supreme Court rather than with a lower court, as is permitted for certain litigation between states.

The Texas suit argued that changes made by the four states to voting procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic to expand mail-in voting were unlawful. Texas asked the Supreme Court to immediately block the four states from using the voting results to appoint presidential electors to the Electoral College.

Texas also asked the Supreme Court to delay the Dec. 14 date for Electoral College votes to be formally cast, a date set by law in 1887.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Will Dunham)

Georgia official announces probe into third-party groups trying to register people illegally

(Reuters) – Election authorities in Georgia have opened investigations into third-party groups trying to sign up new voters in advance of a January special election that could determine control of the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said on Monday.

Raffensperger said his office was examining registration efforts by America Votes, Vote Forward and the New Georgia Project. He said some groups had been encouraging people who lived outside Georgia to register to vote in the state.

“These third-party groups have a responsibility to not encourage illegal voting. If they do so, they will be held responsible,” he said.

Raffensperger said his office also had several investigations open into accusations of wrongdoing in the U.S. presidential election.

(Reporting by Brad Heath; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Pence urges Georgia Republicans to turn out in final Senate battleground

By Jeff Mason

CANTON, Ga. (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence charged into the final battle for control of the U.S. Senate on Friday, urging Republican voters in Georgia to come out in force for Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in two hotly contested Jan. 5 runoff elections.

With state officials poised to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory over President Donald Trump, Pence joined a bus tour through suburban Republican strongholds north of Atlanta, with stops at two “Defend the Majority” rallies.

“Georgia, I got back on the bus today because we need you to stay in the fight,” Pence told hundreds of cheering supporters at an outdoor event in Canton. “Stay in the fight until we send David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back to a Republican majority.”

Democrats hope that challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will emerge victorious in the tight contests to give them a Senate majority that can push Biden’s agenda through Congress next year.

“Vote, Georgia!” Pence said, pausing to tell the crowd the exact time and place where early in-person voting will begin in their community on Dec. 14. “Be in line and vote!”

With Trump no longer on the ballot, Republicans and Democrats both face challenges getting large numbers of voters to the polls in January.

Pence, who the White House said will make repeated visits to Georgia ahead of the runoffs, traveled with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a cousin of the senator and a leading party figure who served as the first Republican governor of Georgia since the post-Civil War Reconstruction.

The vice president portrayed Perdue and Loeffler as integral parts of Trump’s agenda to cut taxes, reduce regulation, fund the military, secure the border and appoint conservative judges, including three U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Pence’s visit came at a time of infighting between Georgia Republicans.

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator since 1996. But Republican confidence has been shaken by Biden’s narrow 49.5% to 49.2% lead over Trump, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in nearly three decades.

Loeffler and Perdue ruffled party feathers by calling jointly for the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, as the state conducted a series of vote recounts focused on the presidential contest.

Loeffler also fought a bitter contest against Republican rival Doug Collins in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election and may have alienated some Collins supporters.

Democrats, who netted only one Republican Senate seat nationwide in the election, need both Georgia seats to give them 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.

Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election is also complicating matters for Republicans by making it hard to rally voters to hold the line against a Biden presidency. Pence did not mention Biden in his remarks, portraying Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead as political villains.

“Let’s show the world what Georgia’s all about, that the agenda of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi is not the agenda of the people of Georgia,” Pence said.

The vice president vowed that Trump would continue to contest the results of the presidential election, and drew periodic chants of “Stop the Steal!” and Four More Years!”

He steered clear of references to the intensifying coronavirus pandemic in addressing supporters, only some of whom wore masks with little social distancing.

Campaign donors and outside groups are pouring money and resources into the state for two-month runoff election campaigns that could see well over $100 million in overall spending.

Republicans have formed a fundraising network called the Georgia Battleground Fund led by scores of party celebrities including members of Congress, former governors and ambassadors. A source said the fund is seeking millions of dollars from donors in big states like Florida and Texas.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, an honorary fund co-chair, chipped in $1 million for the Georgia races during a Zoom call on Thursday with 60 other House members that raised $2.7 million overall in just 30 minutes, according to a person familiar with the event.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Georgia and David Morgan in Washington; additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Wilmington, Delaware; writing by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall)

Options dwindling, Trump faces likely setback in Georgia recount

By Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. presidential election battleground state of Georgia is expected on Thursday to affirm Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump after a painstaking recount, which would deal yet another setback to the president’s attempts to cling to power.

Georgia’s top election official, a Republican, has said the manual recount of almost 5 million votes is unlikely to erode Biden’s initial 14,000 winning margin by enough to hand Trump victory in the state.

That would leave Republican Trump with a dwindling number of options to overturn the results of an election in which Democrat Biden won 5.8 million more votes nationwide. Barring a series of unprecedented events, Biden will be sworn in on Jan. 20.

In the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner, Biden has captured 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, well ahead of the 270 needed for victory. The winner in each state is awarded that state’s electoral votes, a number roughly proportional to the population.

Flipping Georgia’s 16 votes would still leave Trump at least two closely contested states away from overturning Biden’s victory. Georgia officials say they expect to release results on Thursday ahead of a certification deadline on Friday.

In Pennsylvania, where Biden won by 82,000 votes, the Trump campaign is asking a judge to declare him the winner there, saying its Republican-controlled legislature should choose the state’s slate of 20 Electoral College voters.

In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign has paid for a partial recount, even though election officials there say that will likely only add to Biden’s 20,000-vote advantage in a state that carries 10 electoral votes.

‘A DEEPER PROBLEM’

Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits in a number of other states, including Michigan, with scant success so far.

Those legal motions, sprinkled with factual errors, have been dismissed by Biden’s campaign as “theatrics” that are not based on sound law.

Several prominent law firms have pulled out of the operation, leaving Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to spearhead the efforts.

Trump said on Twitter on Thursday that lawyers would discuss a “viable path to victory” at a news conference at noon ET (1700 GMT).

State and federal election officials, as well as outside experts, say Trump’s argument that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud has no basis in fact.

However, it does appear to be affecting public confidence in American democracy. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday found about half of Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election.

Arizona’s top election official, Democrat Katie Hobbs, said she and her family had been getting violent threats and urged Trump to stop casting doubt on the result, in which he lost by just over 10,000 votes.

“(The threats) are a symptom of a deeper problem in our state and country – the consistent and systematic undermining of trust in each other and our democratic process,” Hobbs said in a statement.

Trump, who has largely stayed in the White House and kept out of public view since the election, has no public events scheduled for Thursday.

His administration has so far refused to recognize Biden as the winner, which has held up funding and security clearances to ease the transition from one president to another ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Biden said on Wednesday that the delay was preventing his team from planning a new assault on surging coronavirus infections, which is straining the U.S. healthcare system.

(Writing by Andy Sullivan and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Ross Colvin, Lincoln Feast and David Clarke)

With final races called, Biden ends with 306 Electoral College votes, Trump 232: Edison Research

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in the state of Georgia, while Trump won North Carolina, Edison Research projected on Friday as it called the final two states in the U.S. presidential race.

Edison Research said Biden had won 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232. Biden had surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes needed to capture the presidency on Saturday.

(Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Georgia to re-count presidential election ballots by hand

By Jason Lange and Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia will re-count all paper ballots cast in the Nov. 3 presidential election by hand, the state’s top election official said on Wednesday, a mammoth task that must be completed by Nov. 20.

Democrat Joe Biden secured more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to gain the presidency on Saturday by winning Pennsylvania after four tense days of counting, delayed by a surge in mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. Adding Georgia would only add to Biden’s margin of victory.

Republican President Donald Trump has refused to concede defeat and has said – without citing evidence – that the voting was marred by fraud.

The vote count in Georgia showed Biden ahead of Trump by just 14,101 votes out of some 5 million across the state. With the margin so small, a recount is needed, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said at a news conference.

“You actually have to do a full hand-by-hand recount of all because the margin is so close,” Raffensperger said. “We want to start this before the week is up.”

“People will be working lots of overtime over the next coming weeks,” he said.

Officials will work in pairs, sorting stacks of ballots into piles and counting them under the watch of observers from both political parties, Raffensperger said. The piles will include ballots cast in person and by mail, he said.

“That’s how it’s going to be all the way through, and you’re going to tally it all up. It’s a big process,” he said.

The scale of the endeavor is such that if counting takes place round-the-clock, officials will have to count more than 23,000 ballots an hour in the nine days before the deadline for the results to be certified.

A study by the non-partisan group Fair Vote found that out of 31 statewide recounts between 2000 and 2019, the outcome changed in only three of them. More often, the winner won by a tiny bit more. On average, they shifted the outcome by 0.024%, Fair Vote found – a much smaller margin than Trump would need. Biden currently leads Trump in Georgia by 49.5% to 49.2%.

Georgia’s two U.S. senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans, on Monday called on Raffensperger, who is also a Republican, to resign over his management of the election. They presented no evidence of fraud, however.

(Reporting by Jason Lange, Julia Harte and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)