Georgia breaks records on its first day of early runoff voting

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The secretary of state's office confirmed at least 261,424 mail ballots had already been accepted, surpassing all previous state records.

Georgia voters are already smashing absentee ballot records as early voting begins for a pair of U.S. Senate runoff elections in the state.

Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told the Wall Street Journal on Monday, at the start of the early voting period, that it appeared the runoffs would be a "high-turnout election."

The outlet cited figures from the U.S. Elections Project, which tracks mail ballots using data from the Georgia secretary of state. The Journal reported 246,531 mail ballots had been accepted so far — a 20.1% return rate of requested ballots — and 1,227,285 mail ballots requested, which is a 16.1% request rate of registered voters, as of Monday.

The project is led by Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

Walter Jones, a spokesman for Raffensperger's office, confirmed the record-breaking numbers to the American Independent Foundation.

According to Jones, 261,424 mail ballots had already been accepted and 1,191,901 mail ballots requested as of Monday. He said the figures indicated an all-time record in the state "by a long shot."

Raffensperger emphasized the high stakes of the January runoff, speaking to the Journal this week, encouraging candidates "to make sure that they run hard, because we don't have a runoff after the runoff. This is it."

Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are running against incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively, in a pair of races that will determine which political party controls the U.S. Senate in the next Congress.

The number of absentee ballots this time around bests records set in previous statewide runoffs by a wide margin.

In the December 2018 secretary of state runoff between Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow, fewer than 1.5 million votes were cast and just 82,000 of them were via absentee ballot, according to Jones. That runoff election also saw a lower turnout than the general election, as participation among both candidates' supporters dipped at a similar rate, according to the Americus Times-Recorder.

And in the December 2008 U.S. Senate runoff between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin, just 2.1 million votes were cast, with around 100,000 of those votes coming from absentee ballots. Chambliss won that face-off 57% to 43%, according to the Times-Recorder.

Jones told the American Independent Foundation that, before this year, "we never got anywhere close" to the number of absentee ballots requested or returned in the state.

If either Ossoff or Warnock wins, it would be the first time in 23 years a Democrat won a statewide runoff election in Georgia. The Times-Recorder noted that the last time that happened was the 1998 Public Service Commission runoff when Democrat Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr. beat Republican Jim Cole.

Overall turnout in the 2020 election was astounding, with more than 1.6 million absentee ballots requested in Georgia alone, and more than 541,000 accepted, according to the secretary of state's website.

That figure is impressive, especially given how aggressively Donald Trump and his GOP allies worked to undermine the absentee ballot process in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election, suggesting mail ballots were somehow fraudulent and should be tossed out.

They pushed conspiracy theories claiming, without proof, that mail ballots sidestepped security and scrutiny, forming the impetus for much of Trump's efforts to overturn his election defeat.

But officials across the country have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

"To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election," Trump's own Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press, not long after Biden was declared the winner.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.