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Georgia Voters Head to Polls to Decide Control of Senate

Georgia voters finally head to the polls Tuesday to choose whether Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Leoffler or Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will represent them in the U.S. Senate in a runoff contest, an encore to the rancorous 2020 elections.

(CN) — The outgoing and incoming presidents have visited to make eleventh-hour pitches to voters. Television ads have aired in every far-reaching corner. The campaign busses have crisscrossed the state.

Georgia voters finally head to the polls Tuesday to choose whether Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Leoffler or Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will represent them in the U.S. Senate in a runoff contest, an encore to the rancorous 2020 elections.

The races near their conclusion as changing demographics caused the traditionally red state to narrowly break for President-elect Joe Biden in November, which has caused some Republicans to express mistrust and spread disinformation about the integrity of Georgia’s voting system.

The fate of the Senate is on the line, with voters deciding whether the chamber will remain narrowly in Republican control or flip to blue. Tens of millions of dollars in campaign money has poured into the state.

Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, said early voting in the election already "smashed a record for turnout," with more than 3 million people casting ballots either in the early voting period or via absentee ballot.

When the voting systems implementation manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office spoke to reporters Monday afternoon, he said 2,648 polling locations would open across the state on Election Day. A few locations had closed, he said, because of Covid-19 and staffing-related issues.

However, Sterling said disinformation concerning the integrity of the state's election system has affected turnout models.

"Everybody's vote is going to count. Everybody's vote did count," Sterling said.

Much of the rest of Sterling's comments to reporters centered around countering disinformation that cropped up surrounding the election. Some of President Trump's supporters, upset over the result of the presidential election, suggested voters stay home during the runoff as a protest, Sterling noted.

"There are people who fought and died and marched and prayed and voted to get the right to vote," Sterling said. "Throwing it away because you have some feeling it may not matter is self-destructive, ultimately, and a self-fulfilling prophecy in the end."

During a Monday night rally in the city of Dalton, which bills itself as the carpet capital of the world, the president criticized the election he lost while still urging his supporters to back the incumbent Republicans in the race, Perdue and Loeffler.

For his part, Biden held a drive-in rally the same day in Atlanta, telling voters the election would not just determine the outcome of his term in office, but could chart the course of the country for a generation.

Ahead of Election Day, the Ossoff campaign completed a weeklong, 16-city bus tour seeking to reach Black voters.

Appearing with Trump on Monday night, Loeffler said she would object to Congress’ certification of the Electoral College results on Wednesday.

Across the state, Republican voters wrestled with the disagreements in their party before heading to the polls. Moreover, many hoped a Perdue and Loeffler win would provide a counterweight to the Biden administration.

Outside the Savannah Civic Center, Barbara Treadwell said she supported the Republican ticket because, as a capitalist and businesswoman, she leaned towards the party’s ideals. The 76-year-old certified financial planner rode her bike to the polls.

“I have witnessed chaos in my party this past voting season and really its frightening, but I am going to stick with my guns,” Treadwell said. “I would, however, like to see more balance overall.”

Casey Frazier, 49, questioned whether she should even vote at all, saying that Georgia's voting system was susceptible to fraud and she didn't know if her vote could be switched. But civic duty won out.

Frazier, wearing a red mask and red sweater, cast her vote at the civic center in the small city of Chickamauga, a community just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, that was the location of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

"It was 50/50," Frazier said. "It was back and forth. I don't trust the system enough but I had to do it. I had to at least go out here and try."

Backing the Republican candidates, Frazier said she voted for freedom.

"I want us to be allowed to get out and work," Frazier said regarding Covid-19 restrictions around the nation. "Thank God in Georgia we can."

Meanwhile, voters supporting the two Democrats in the race looked to change.

Zachary Grizzle, a 24-year-old radio traffic reporter, said he didn’t have to wait at all to cast his ballot at Hope Crossings Church in Jefferson, Georgia, on Tuesday morning.  

“It’s still early so I rolled in around 10 a.m. to no line,” he said. 

Grizzle said his voting experience was mostly seamless, except for a brief machine snafu. But after the third or fourth try, the voting machine finally recognized his card.

He voted for the Democrats, Ossoff and Warnock, and said he felt relieved to have performed his civic duty.

“I’d like to see what can actually happen with the Senate supporting the president going into his first term. And Loeffler’s ads only annoyed me into wanting to vote for Warnock anyway,” he said. 

Middle Georgia State University professor Sheree Keith, 42, said she felt relieved and “cautiously hopeful” after casting her ballot Tuesday.  

Keith said her experience voting in Macon at Northside Christian Church was “fast and easy.” 

She didn’t say who she voted for but said, “It’s time for a change.” 

“I’m excited about the possibilities for Georgia and for the U.S. as we move into 2021 with new leadership,” she added. 

Keith also said she looks forward to the end of the political campaigning.

“I’m hoping to not get any more text messages about voting,” she said. 

Lauren Gallet contributed to this report.

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