Over 940,000 Request Absentee Ballots in Georgia Senate Runoffs

Over 940,000 Request Absentee Ballots in Georgia Senate Runoffs
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (R) and Raphael Warnock campaign in Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 15, 2020. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

More than 940,000 requests for mail-in ballots have been made in Georgia for the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff elections, officials said on Nov. 30.

The two Senate runoffs will determine whether Republicans can maintain a majority in the chamber. Republicans have 50 Senate seats in the next Congress, with the two seats to be decided. Democrats would need to win both runoff elections and the presidency to flip control of the Senate.

The number of absentee ballot requests is already approaching the number requested for the Nov. 3 presidential election. Some 1,322,529 ballots were cast by mail in that election, according to the Georgia secretary of state's office.

Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting systems implementation manager, told a press conference that the current number of requested absentee ballots includes about 84,000 that county officials are still working on verifying.

Just over 1,000 ballots have already been sent in.

"It's small trickle, what we expect to get a lot bigger soon," Sterling said.

Georgia sends ballots when requested, with no rationale necessary. In most other states, people need to give a reason for why they can't vote in person.

Disabled voters, those 65 or older, members of the military, and overseas residents were able to ask to automatically receive a ballot for the rest of the election cycle when requesting an absentee ballot for the primary or general election. All other voters must request a mail-in ballot for the runoffs, even if they voted by mail earlier this year.

Some people who checked that box on the absentee ballot application didn't realize later on why they were automatically receiving ballots, Sterling said earlier this month.

"We we were able to check specifically on some of the ones that called us about it. We saw they were on the rollover list, they just didn't know they were on the rollover list," he said.

Voters have until Dec. 7 to request mail-in ballots.

 Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in file photographs. (Getty Images)
Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in file photographs. (Getty Images)

Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) failed to win a majority of votes in the Nov. 3 election. Perdue garnered more than 89,000 more votes than challenger Jon Ossoff but just missed the cutoff. Loeffler emerged from a free-for-all special election to finish the term for the seat held by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who retired in 2019, triggering the appointment of the businesswoman by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Loeffler is facing Atlanta pastor Raphael Warnock.

Because of the stakes, a bevy of officials and lawmakers have traveled to Georgia to campaign for one group of candidates or another. Trump is scheduled to travel there on Dec. 5, and Biden is expected to campaign with Ossoff and Warnock in the coming weeks.

The rush by organizations to convince voters to participate in the runoff has led to problems.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, told the briefing that his office is probing groups working to register people in other states to vote in Georgia.

“Voting in Georgia when you’re not a resident of Georgia is a felony, and encouraging college kids to commit felonies, with no regard for what it might mean for them, is despicable,” he said.

“These third-party groups have a responsibility to not encourage illegal voting. If they do so, they will be held responsible."