00:08 GMT26 January 2021
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    Early voting for Georgia's Senate runoff elections began on Monday. While runoff races have historically resulted in weaker voter participation, Georgia residents are positioned to cast a historic number of ballots in the January 5, 2021, election.

    As of December 14, registered voters in Georgia have filed at least 1,229,917 absentee ballot requests, according to US Elections Project data. Total requests account for 16.1% of registered voters. 

    Additionally, more than 260,000 mail-in ballots have already been accepted by the state. 

    Ballots for the critical January 5 runoff elections feature Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, respectively. The second round of voting comes after none of the Senate candidates secured a majority of the vote in their relevant races.

    Ossoff barely bested Perdue 48.5% to 47.5% and Warnock narrowly led Loeffler 48.5% to 46.9% following the November 3 general election.    

    Georgia's Senate runoff elections will be the deciding factor in which party controls the legislative chamber. Presently, Republicans - led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) - hold a 50-48 majority in the Senate. 

    In the event that both Ossoff and Warnock win their races, Democrats and Republicans would have 50-50 Senate representation. Following the January 20 inauguration, presumed Vice President Kamala Harris holds the power to settle any tie-breaker votes. 

    Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, leader of the grassroots voting rights organization Fair Fight, told "CBS This Morning" host Gayle King on Monday that she believes the Senate runoffs will bring a "turnout unlike anything Georgia has seen." 

    According to the former state lawmaker, at least 85,000 absentee ballot requests have come from Americans who did not participate in the November 3 presidential election. 

    Abrams noted that a disproportionate number of people requesting absentee ballots are between the ages of 18 and 29 years old. Additionally, an overwhelming amount of mail-in ballot requests have come from people of color.  

    Early, in-person votes accounted for more than half of the record 5 million ballots cast in the November 3 general election. 

    Loeffler and Perdue have received hefty support from US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in recent days. 

    Pence told attendees of the "Defend the Majority" rally in Augusta, Georgia, on Thursday that winning the upcoming elections and maintaining the GOP's control of the Senate could be the "last line of defense" in defending the nation, reviving the economy and preserving "the God-given liberties we hold dear." 

    Trump Takes Aim at Georgia Governor Over Signature Verification 

    The US president took a more targeted approach on Sunday, slamming Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, as a "fool" and a "clown" for not calling a special session of the state's General Assembly to further enforce signature verification on mail-in ballots. While Georgia's election laws were passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, Trump claims Kemp's failure to call a special session could result in a "bad day" for Loeffler and Perdue in January. 

    Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), a notable Trump ally, has issued similar complaints about the state's election laws, arguing to Newsmax TV that the consent decree regarding signature matching "gutted [Georgia's] verification process" for mail-in ballots. 

    The decree was implemented by Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger earlier this year to resolve a signature matching lawsuit filed by Democrats. Raffensperger's office has maintained that the US president's assessment of the matter is "flat out, 100 percent, four square wrong."

    "The consent decree literally – all we did was send out an 'official election bulletin,' telling people, 'Hey follow our rules and how we already do signature match,'" explained Gabriel Sterling, Raffensperger's voting systems implementation manager. The consent decree allows voters to fix their ballots if a signature mismatch is identified. 

    Nevertheless, the Republican National Committee, Georgia Republican Party and other GOP plaintiffs have filed three separate lawsuits against Georgia's secretary of state. 

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    Tags:
    ballots, Absentee Ballots, Republicans, Democrats, Joe Biden, election, runoff vote, David Perdue, US Senate, Jon Ossoff, Donald Trump, US Election 2020, Georgia
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