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Early voting in Georgia’s Senate runoffs is massive — but what does that mean?

More than 1.4 million Georgians have already voted, surpassing the total turnout from the 1992 Senate runoff.

Supporters hold up campaign signs as Democratic US Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks at a voting rally on December 19 in Savannah, Georgia.
Megan Varner/Getty Images

More than 1.4 million people have already voted ahead of Georgia’s two January 5 US Senate runoff elections, a sign that enthusiasm has not slowed down since the presidential election.

Those early vote numbers are on par with the historic turnout in the November presidential race, according to data from Georgia Votes, a nonpartisan website that tracks turnout in the state. At this point in the general election, turnout was around 1.5 million, according to the site’s tally.

“It’s stunning,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock told Vox, noting turnout has already surpassed the total turnout of the 1992 Senate runoff. Current turnout is also close to two-thirds of the 2.1 million votes cast in the 2008 Senate runoff, the most recent Senate runoff in the state’s history. “We’re well on the way to passing those kinds of percentages,” Bullock added.

It is still far too early to tell who these trends will ultimately benefit in the races between Sen. David Perdue (R) and Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock. Georgia is historically Republican, but President-elect Joe Biden was the first Democrat to win a presidential race there since 1992.

There are still two weeks of early voting left before the runoff election that will ultimately determine which party will control the US Senate — and by extension, decide the fate of much of Biden’s agenda in Washington, DC. Democrats would need to win both seats to gain the barest of majorities in the Senate: 50 votes plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

High turnout is essential for Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who ran behind Biden in the November election. The data shows that more than 41,000 voters who cast ballots during early voting did not vote in the 2020 general election. This group makes up a little less than 3 percent of the overall electorate, but in a close and tight election, even a small group could make the difference.

Republicans know the stakes are high, but they’ve struggled at times with the messaging needed to fire up their base, especially since President Donald Trump is reluctant to admit he lost the November election.

“Turnout is what matters,” Cook Political Report Senate editor Jessica Taylor recently told Vox. “Democrats need to get their voters to turn out again.”

What we know about early voter turnout so far

The data breakdown of Georgia’s 1.4 million votes cast so far contains some encouraging signs for Democrats.

The biggest thing to take away is Black turnout, which is currently hovering around 32 percent of total turnout, according to the Georgia Votes data. Bullock and New York Times elections analyst Nate Cohn noted that Black voter turnout so far appears to be higher than it was at this point in the general election. Black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party’s base in Georgia, but their share of the vote fell slightly to 27 percent in the 2020 election.

Political experts say that in order for Democrats to do well, the Black vote needs to be closer to 30 percent. So while this 32 percent number may look encouraging now, it’s impossible to draw any kind of prediction out of these numbers without knowing what turnout on January 5 looks like. In other words, even if Democrats do well in the early vote, Republican voters could still wipe out those gains in early January.

“They could turn out at much larger count than African Americans and drive those numbers down,” Bullock said.

In addition, even though Black voters undoubtedly make up the majority of Georgia’s Democratic base, the 2020 election showed a successful coalition is also built on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters, Latino voters, and white suburban women.

The Georgia Votes data shows that women voters are so far outpacing men in the early voting period 54 percent to 44 percent, but again, those numbers will undoubtedly shift as we get closer to the election.

“It’s not just one group you’re trying to get out,” Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat, recently told Vox. “If any of those components really fall off, you lose — and that’s why it’s hard. It’s a much more difficult task for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.”