One of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs remains uncalled, along with the Senate majority, as election officials in the state process a dwindling number of mail, provisional and early ballots that could tip the balance of power.
While Democrat Raphael Warnock was declared the winner of his race over GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler early Wednesday morning, Democrat Jon Ossoff’s battle with Republican incumbent David Perdue remains uncalled, with Ossoff staked to a narrow lead of more than 9,000 votes out of just under 4.4 million tabulated so far.
That tally accounts for about 98 percent of the expected vote total. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a Tuesday night interview on CNN that his office estimated somewhere between 4.5 and 4.6 million voters had cast ballots in the runoffs.
Raffensperger projected that there’d be more results Wednesday morning: “Hopefully by noon we’ll have a better idea where we are.”
Here’s what we know about the votes left to count:
The roughly 100,000 outstanding votes will likely favor the Democrats significantly
The bulk of the votes left to count are in Atlanta and its suburbs, where Warnock and Ossoff racked up big margins in the runoffs. Erica Hamilton, the director of elections in DeKalb, said in a statement early Wednesday morning that the county’s remaining 19,000 ballots had to be manually scanned “due to technical issues.” Georgia has paper ballots as a safeguard.
Hancock County, a small Democratic-leaning county to Atlanta’s southeast, also has not completed its count.
While the Georgia secretary of state’s office has marked every other county “complete” on its online results page, many of those counties may still have ballots outstanding, including mail ballots that were received on Election Day and provisional ballots. Atlanta’s Fulton County, for example, has 4,000 absentee ballots to count on Wednesday.
There is a Friday deadline to receive military and overseas ballots and fix problems with absentee votes
If the second runoff remains exceedingly close, it may go uncalled until at least Friday. Certain ballots from military and overseas voters can be received by election officials through Friday and still count, while ballots from most domestic voters had to be in by the time the polls closed on Tuesday. In a CNN interview, Raffensperger said that 17,000 overseas ballots were distributed, though not all of them will be returned.
Voters also have until Friday to fix any problems on rejected ballots, such as a missing signature. This is known as the “curing” process. But even after that process, things could take longer to sort out: If the margin of the race is within 0.5 percentage points, the trailing candidate can request a recount.
The speed of ballot counting has been the subject of conspiracy theories promoted by President Donald Trump and his allies, including on Tuesday evening, when Trump pushed fabrications about a late “voter dump” against the Republican Senate candidates as Democratic-leaning counties reported their votes.
Higher levels of mail voting slows down the counting process
Election officials and voting rights groups in Georgia urged patience to voters as ballots were counted, as they did in November. Voters in Georgia cast over 1 million ballots via the mail in the runoffs — a roughly 20 percent drop from the November elections, according to data from Georgia Votes, but a drastic increase compared to past years. Mail ballots typically take more time to process and tally than votes that were cast in-person, either early or on election day.
The state wasn’t called by media outlets for President-elect Joe Biden in November until Nov. 13, ten days after the election, even with most of the votes tallied on the evening of the November election. Georgia had one of the closest presidential margins in the country in 2020.
Even still, Georgia has procedures in place to speed up the ballot tallying process. Georgia county election officials were allowed to start pre-processing mail ballots more than two weeks before the election, before running the actual tabulation on the night of the election. Ballots that were received by election officials before the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Election Day will also be counted, but they are often among the last ballots reported.