Steady turnout, few lines reported as Georgia voters settle high-stakes Senate runoff

By: - December 6, 2022 6:02 pm

Steady turnout was reported statewide Tuesday, but voters were largely spared the long lines that bogged down early voting in some counties. Pictured is a voter breezing into Full Life Church in Woodstock. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

This story was updated at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. 

More than 3.5 million voters cast ballots in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff that resulted in Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock stiff-arming Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

There were long lines during Georgia’s condensed early voting period, which had record in-person turnout for a midterm runoff, but there were only a few reports of long waits on Tuesday despite a strong turnout that surpassed 1.5 million voters. 

The day went off without reports of significant problems as most polls closed down at 7 p.m. 

National media outlets declared Warnock’s victory within several hours after the polls shut down in a whirlwind race that saw Warnock garner 1.8 million votes to Walker 1.7 million, building a 90,000-vote lead with all the votes tallied, according to unofficial results.

Secretary of State’s office Chief Operating Officer Gabriel Sterling predicted reaching 3.5 million votes –  a remarkable threshold considering the general election turnout topped out at 3.9 million.  

“You usually fall down to like 40%, maybe 50% of what you had in the first round,” Sterling said. “We are going to be well above that by the end when all is said and done.”

Georgia’s new voting law means this year’s Senate runoff took place four weeks after the general election, or half the turnaround between the November 2020 general election and the January 2021 runoff when Warnock and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff defeated Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Warnock was elected in 2021 to finish GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term after he retired due to his declining health.

Nathan Cooley, a 33-year-old Snellville resident who declined to say which candidate he backed, said it took all of five minutes for him to vote Tuesday at Annistown Elementary School in Gwinnett County.

“I’m not going to lie, having to vote back-to-back, it is a little draining,” Cooley said of the runoff. “But the process has been very smooth.”

One of the voters to come out Tuesday was Clarese Hallman who voted for Warnock at Mt. Zion High School in Clayton County, continuing a trend over the last two election cycles. The nursing assistant said she is confident the incumbent can defeat an opponent whose character she says is less than admirable.

Hallman praised the Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor’s demeanor and said that she is impressed with how he’s handled his first two years in the Senate. 

“I’m ready for this to be settled and send a sign that Georgia isn’t turning everything over to Republicans to dictate everything,” she said. 

Despite a high turnout in early voting among Black and young voters that appeared to favor Warnock, the supporters of his Republican opponent were eager to rally conservative voters to the polls Tuesday in hopes of replacing Warnock with a more like-minded candidate.

In the conservative hotbed of Cherokee County, residents Maureen Hanratty and Bill McClellan said they attempted to vote early but couldn’t because of the lines so instead they went to their precinct Tuesday where they had a much easier go. 

“We tried to vote early, and there were 300 people in line,” Hanratty said today outside of her polling place at Ball Ground United Methodist Church in Ball Ground. We said forget about it, we’ll vote on Election Day.”

On a chilly and foggy day, the lines moved swiftly at Sutallee Baptist Church in Bartow County where Walker was the popular choice among voters like Ron Lipke who said he wants the GOP to have more power to offset the agenda of President Joe Biden.

Warnock’s victory would give Democrats 51 seats in the Senate and provide more leeway in close votes on legislation while preventing Republicans from obtaining a filibuster-proof majority in the next election cycle.

If Walker wins, Senate committees will be evenly divided, which will further bolster the Republican power after already regaining control of the House of Representatives in the midterms.

“I think in this day and age, there’s a lot of things you could talk about being a problem or not a problem that should be or shouldn’t be,” Lipke said. “But I really don’t like it when it’s all in one hand. I don’t care whose hand, I think that’s really dangerous.”

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger argued there is no excuse for registered voters not to turn out in the final hours. Georgia’s voting law changes in 2021 will allow absentee ballot processing to begin earlier, which should lead to a smoother process for tabulating votes in what is expected to be a close election. 

“People feel more comfortable and more confident about the process,” he said. “We know that we have safe, secure honest elections that are accurate, but we want all the voters to have that same sense of confidence,” Raffensperger said.

Georgia Recorder reporters Ross Williams and Jill Nolin contributed to this report. 

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.