US Senate races in Georgia draw to a close

WASHINGTON – Millions of Georgia voters cast their ballots on Tuesday (Jan 5) in two critical run-off races that will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate for the next two years.

The Republican incumbent senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both won less than 50 per cent of the vote in the November election, and are now facing off against their Democrat challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Polling stations begin closing at 7pm local time (8am Wednesday Singapore time) and vote counting will start then. But Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told cable networks CNN and Fox News that the winners will not likely be known until Wednesday “sometime”.

Some 3.1 million votes were already cast in person or by mail before Tuesday. State elections official Gabriel Sterling told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that in-person turnout so far seemed to be lower than the presidential election based on reports of short waits, but that there was no way of knowing the actual turnout until ballots were counted.

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, won Georgia with roughly 12,000 more votes than President Donald Trump in the November presidential election.

But no Democrat Senate candidate in Georgia has won since 1996. Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler also won more votes than Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff in November, hinting at how tight Tuesday’s run-off races may be.

There were a few minor technical problems, including some voting machines that could not be started up as keys had been programmed incorrectly, said Mr Sterling. He added that the issues were resolved by 10am.

The races come a day before an all-important event in Washington: a joint session of Congress to formally count the electoral college votes and announce Mr Biden as the winner.

Mr Trump stepped up pressure on Vice-President Mike Pence, who will preside over the joint session in a ceremonial role, to reject the vote.

“The Vice-President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Mr Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday morning, a statement that constitutional law experts say is incorrect.

“The Constitution does not grant the VP power to reject electoral votes unilaterally. The President is wrong on the law. And what’s even more clear: he’s explicitly rejecting democracy,” said Harvard Law School lecturer Matthew Seligman.

Still, supporters of Mr Trump have been gathering in Washington DC and will participate in protests on Wednesday.

They will be joined, at least briefly, by Mr Trump. The President announced on Twitter that he will speak at a rally at the Ellipse, in front of the White House, on Wednesday morning – two hours before Congress is due to start its joint session.

“BIG CROWDS!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

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