Democrats take control of the Senate

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 6:12 PM ET, Wed January 6, 2021
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4:37 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

Georgia election official anticipates it will take "a couple of days" to learn the final results

From CNN's Caroline Kenny and Pamela Brown

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Gabriel Sterling, the voting systems implementation manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office, told reporters that if he were the betting type, he would anticipate that it will be a couple of days until the final tallies are known in Georgia. 

"I would anticipate it was going to be a couple of days," Sterling said Tuesday afternoon.

He also said that it’s hard to project turnout today, saying the day-of voting total could be anywhere between 600,000 to 1.1 million.

Sterling added that the short lines and wait times many polling places are experiencing are not indications of low turnout, but instead could be indications that the poll workers are efficient and have gotten the process down.

He told CNN to expect a "flood" of returns between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. tonight in Georgia. A big reason why being that the early votes can be scanned and processed before today. When the polls close at 7 p.m., they'll be tabulated and sent to the Secretary of State's office. 

4:51 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

Democratic campaigns say they're expecting high GOP voter turnout on election day

From CNN's Kyung Lah

Voters line up for the Senate runoff election at a polling location in Marietta, Georgia, on January 5.
Voters line up for the Senate runoff election at a polling location in Marietta, Georgia, on January 5. Mike Segar/Reuters

“I feel really skeptical” on whether this will happen for us, says a Democratic source with knowledge of both campaigns. “I feel this is a really hard thing to do for Democrats.”

The source adds if the two candidates get close, “it will be incredible because it’s not supposed to be possible” in Georgia, adding that what we’re seeing now is a testament to the shifting state and the two Democratic candidates.

A senior aide on Raphael Warnock's campaign says the campaign is “under no illusions” about GOP turnout today. The Warnock campaign is expecting high turnout among the GOP faithful today and believes many waited until today.

A senior campaign aide for Jon Ossoff said their camp is “more cautious” than most national Democrats are being. “Republicans in Georgia turn out on Election Day and those voters consistently vote.”

The aide also said “we are weary of any claims that turnout may be low based on short lines,” pointing out Georgia has now run three elections in a pandemic.

The campaign believes the counties were well prepared this election and do not believe short lines and good processing times are an indicator of turnout.

UPDATE: A previous version of this post included a quote from an anonymous aide. That has been removed.

4:14 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

GOP sees good signs in rural counties

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

Sen. Kelly Loeffler makes a campaign stop at the Houston County Republican Party Campaign Headquarters on December 13 in Warner Robins, Georgia.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler makes a campaign stop at the Houston County Republican Party Campaign Headquarters on December 13 in Warner Robins, Georgia. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Republicans are pinning their hopes on steady turnout in key rural counties — and so far they like what they see. GOP operatives point to two counties in particular which are outperforming their pace from the November election.

Cherokee County, north of Atlanta, is on pace to eclipse the GOP’s target goal for turnout in that county. In November, President Trump won the county with nearly 70% of the vote.

Another county with above average turnout is Houston County, which is south of Macon and is David Perdue’s home county. Republicans are encouraged by the brisk turnout in the Senator’s home county. President Trump won Houston County easily as well with more than 55% of the vote.

Why this matters: The performance in these two counties mimics a trend they are seeing across the state, and has them encouraged that their election day get out the vote strategy is working.

3:52 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

Republican senate candidates say they are "encouraged by reports of high voter turnout"

From CNN's Caroline Kenny

Voters sign in to vote at the Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Church in Tucker, Georgia during the Senate runoff election on January 5.
Voters sign in to vote at the Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Church in Tucker, Georgia during the Senate runoff election on January 5. Ben Gray/AP

The Perdue and Loeffler campaigns released a joint statement today on voting – encouraging all Georgians to vote in today’s runoffs.

Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue said they are “encouraged by reports of high voter turnout across the state – particularly so in North Georgia, where President Trump rallied Republicans last night,"

They also warned “this is going to a very close election and could come down to the difference of just a few votes in a few precincts across the state.”

3:12 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

How one Georgia county is letting coronavirus voters cast their ballots

From CNN’s Martin Savidge and Pamela Kirkland

Protocol for Covid-19-positive voters was used this morning in Wilmington Island, Georgia, about 15 miles east of Savannah. A married couple showed up on Tuesday morning to the Island's Christian Church precinct to vote, after having tested positive for Covid-19. 

The couple alerted a poll worker at the door. That poll worker then let the poll manager at the church know the couple had tested positive for Covid-19 and wanted to vote.

According to Chatham County Board of Elections member Antwan Lang, who was on site at the time, the polling place was emptied. The couple was then allowed inside to cast their ballots. Afterwards, the space was sanitized. The sanitation process took about 15 minutes.  

Lang said that there’s been a Covid-19 protocol in place to ensure voters with Covid-19 are still able to vote since the 2020 primaries. 

3:16 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

Biden says he's "feeling very optimistic" about Georgia Senate run-offs

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

In an Atlanta drive-time radio interview airing this afternoon, President-elect Joe Biden said he is "feeling very optimistic" about the Georgia Senate run-offs today. He talked about how Covid-19 relief and vaccinations are part of what’s at stake in these elections.

"We’ve got to restore a sense of decency and honor and commitment to one another. We’ve got to unite this country that’s why I’m so excited about the prospects of Jon and the Reverend winning this thing," Biden said in an interview with Kenny Burns on V103.

Asked what issues would be advanced if the Democratic candidates were to win, Biden said Congress would be able to pass $2,000 stimulus checks faster and provide more funding for vaccine distribution.

"I’m gonna need their help in making sure that we establish thousands of federally run and federal supported community vaccination centers of various sizes across the country, located in high school gyms or NFL football stadiums and we can do that by engaging….FEMA the disaster group and the CDC and the US military and national guard," Biden said. He also outlined plans to deploy mobile vaccination clinics to rural locations and launch store-front vaccination programs.

"We can do this but it costs money and the inability of the present Republican leadership and Trump in particular preventing that from being made available to the states it’s just almost criminal in my view. and people are dying, people are dying," he said.

Biden criticized the Trump administration over the slow pace of vaccine distribution, saying "the federal government has done virtually no planning."

The President-elect also talked about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ possible role as a tie-breaking vote if Democrats win in Georgia today.

"When Jon and the Reverend win, it’s a 50-50 tie. You know what that means? The vice president of the United states essentially becomes the majority leader in the United States Senate. She has the vote to break every single tie…so it gives the Democrats 51 votes, her vote, her vote."

He also spoke about how Republicans senators in Georgia are pledging "loyalty to Trump, not to the people of Georgia." He praised Republicans like Mitt Romney who he said "don’t want to be part of this Trump Republican Party, this renegade group."

2:11 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

USPS says its moving most completed ballots in Georgia on-time

From CNN's Paul Murphy

John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A new filing, mandated by a federal court order, shows that the United States Postal Service is largely moving completed ballots in Georgia on-time to count for the runoff Senate elections. 

According to the data, the USPS moved the 942 completed ballots it processed between 92% and 96% on-time in its three districts which cover Georgia. 

Mail-in ballots in Georgia must be received by poll close on Tuesday, with the exception of overseas and military ballots which have until Friday to arrive and be counted.

The overwhelming majority of ballots were mailed out to voters by election officials on Dec. 3, and the immediate days after, according to the data. It also indicates that on Dec. 7, and the five days after, the USPS processed the bulk of the completed ballots heading back to election officials. Since then, the numbers have decreased every single day. 

Additional filings show that USPS is also conducting twice-daily sweeps for any ballots at processing facilities that serve Georgia.

USPS continues to experience significant delays with mail and packages because of the holidays and Covid-19, but they say they have been implementing the same extraordinary measures they had in place during the final days of the general election to speed up the on-time delivery of ballots. 

Since Dec. 28, they’ve been utilizing measures such as Sunday delivery and "local turnaround," which dramatically speeds up delivery by delivering completed ballots directly to local election officials, instead of them first going to a mail processing facility.

"Additionally, the US Postal Inspection Service and the Office of the Inspector General are in our facilities which process Georgia’s Election Mail throughout the region where they review internal practices within USPS," Marti Johnson, USPS spokesperson, told CNN in a statement. "While in postal facilities, Inspectors review physical security of both the workplace and the mail to quickly identify and address and potential issues with election mail."
1:28 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

After a record early voting numbers, Chatham County is seeing slow runoff election day turnout

From CNN's Aditi Sangal and Martin Savidge

Chatham County saw a record early voting turnout but today, officials are seeing slow turnout. For example, a polling station at the civic center in downtown Savannah is seeing eight to nine ballots cast an hour, CNN's Martin Savidge reports.

The voter turnout for today may be lower than projected.

"The projection is about 40,000 that we hope to see today. But we may see a little less than that," said Antwan T. Lang, member of the Chatham County Board of Elections.

1:28 p.m. ET, January 5, 2021

Georgia voting official says average wait times to vote around the state are between 1 and 5 minutes

From CNN's Caroline Kenny

Gabriel Sterling speaks during a press conference on Monday, January 4.
Gabriel Sterling speaks during a press conference on Monday, January 4. CNN

Gabriel Sterling, the voting systems implementation manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office, gave a midday briefing to the press Tuesday. Sterling said that 1,018,382 absentee ballots by mail have been received so far, early in-person votes were in at 2,074,994, which means total ballots cast going into Election Day is 3,093,376.

A subset of that number is the Overseas and Military votes – there were 27,945 sent out, Sterling said, and they are working to get a list of the number received. Those ballots can be received and counted up until Friday. Sterling said he expected the office would “probably have that in a later briefing today.”

As of this morning, the state saw a few issues, mainly in Columbia County, which is located outside of Augusta. “They were addressed quickly,” Sterling said. 

Two main things happened in Columbia County, Sterling said. First, an “i-button,” which essentially turns on the main polling place scanners, was not programmed properly in a percentage of the precincts. Secondly, some poll worker cards were not properly programmed which did not allow for the voter cards to be made or the ballot activation codes to be used, “so emergency ballots had to be used in that situation and they were put into the emergency bin of the ballot box.”

Sterling added that the average wait times they’ve seen around the state have been between 1 and 5 minutes this morning and the longest they are aware of were about 30 minutes this morning in DeKalb and Cobb County.

 “It is steady but it is slow in many cases, so if you haven’t voted, we encourage you, please get out and vote. It is easy, simple, there isn’t a line in the way right now,” Sterling said.

Asked by CNN’s Dianne Gallagher about a report that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations is looking into "specific threats" when it comes to the election, Sterling said that local law enforcement coordinated to do sweeps but added, “We feel comfortable right now that voting is being done in a safe and proper way.”

Asked again if these were specific threats at polling places, he said “it was sort of a copy and paste email done to the several counties, it wasn’t individualized by any means.” He added that they don’t believe any voters or staff are in danger at this point.

Gallagher also asked Sterling about his last 18 hours since his press conference yesterday. Sterling said, “In this office, we follow the law, we follow the process and we defend the constitutional rights of American citizens and we don’t let anything get in the way and distract us from that, so that’s why I’m trying to encourage everybody to please get out and vote.”

Sterling said he did not watch President Trump’s rally in Georgia last night, but when asked if he has anything to say directly to the President, all Sterling said was, “We disagree.”