ATLANTA — In the first and only weekend of early voting in the Georgia Senate runoff, tens of thousands of voters cast ballots in the election pitting Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock against Republican challenger Herschel Walker — the last Senate contest of the 2022 midterms.
On Saturday, 70,050 Georgians turned out to vote, utilizing an extra day of early voting resulting from a lawsuit filed by Warnock, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the state Democratic Party. Republicans tried to block the effort in court but were unsuccessful.
Among those who voted Saturday were Georgia residents who told The Washington Post that busy schedules made voting impossible during the week. The lines also included college students home for the Thanksgiving holiday who preferred to vote in person rather than rely on an absentee ballot.
Neither Warnock nor Walker captured more than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 8, forcing the two into a Dec. 6 runoff. Democrats have already reclaimed majority control of the Senate after winning a GOP-held seat in Pennsylvania, but a Warnock win would give them 51 seats and an advantage on committees, with no need for a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans.
On Sunday, an additional 86,937 people voted. That number combined with voters in select counties who voted before Thanksgiving and the 15,305 mail ballots accepted so far means that a total of 181,711 voters had cast their ballots by the weekend’s end.
By Monday evening — with all 159 counties offering early voting — even more voters had shown up. As of 4:45 p.m., an additional 239,160 voters had cast their ballot, according to Gabriel Sterling, a top official in Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. In a brief interview Sterling said Monday’s total number could surpass 250,000, and that even more voters could show up in the days closer to the election.
By comparison, more than 200,000 people had already submitted a mail ballot on the first day of early voting in Georgia’s last runoff election in January 2021. And more than 1.6 million had voted in the first week, underscoring the different political environment and state of Georgia’s voting laws, which were overhauled in 2021 with new restrictions on how ballots are cast.
The stakes were higher in January 2021, with two runoff elections on the ballot that decided control of the Senate.
Through the in-person early voting, Georgians had to wait hours in line at many locations to cast their ballots. Among them was Warnock, who voted Sunday afternoon in Fulton County. The lawmaker stood in line for almost an hour before being able to vote for himself. Early voting ends Friday.
Warnock held several public campaign events over the weekend, while his opponent had none. Walker will return to the campaign trail Monday, after not holding any public events since Tuesday.
In the lead-up to the election, a group of a dozen prominent faith leaders in the state urged Black voters to cast ballots for Warnock, arguing that Walker, a business executive and former college football star, is unfit for the job.
“We believe Herschel Walker belongs in the Football Hall of Fame, but absolutely nowhere near the United States Senate,” the faith leaders wrote in an “open letter to Georgia’s African American community” released Monday.
“Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘nothing in this world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity’ — this quote clearly describes Mr. Walker, and we must not reward his ‘sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity’ by electing him to the United States Senate,” the letter says.
The faith leaders argue that Walker has both “character” flaws and “bizarre stances on critical issues” that would make him a subpar lawmaker.
“While he may make white extremists in Georgia, out-of-state politicians, and his close friend, Donald Trump, happy, as people of faith, our priorities and expectations on issues come from a higher calling,” the letter says.
The Walker campaign had no immediate comment on the letter.
Warnock released a video over the weekend featuring speeches from Walker showing voters reacting with disbelief to the Republican’s comments about vampires, werewolves and “good air” from the United States displacing “bad air” in China, among other topics.
“Not only does it make no sense, I don’t even understand what he thinks he’s saying,” says one woman in the video.
The ad comes days after Georgia state officials were asked to investigate reports that despite competing to represent Georgia in the Senate, Walker is getting a tax break on his Texas home that was intended only for a primary residence.
Georgia resident Ann Gregory Roberts filed a complaint to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and Georgia Bureau of Investigation arguing that Walker is ineligible to register to vote in Georgia because his primary residence is in Texas. And that by voting in Georgia, Walker has broken the law.
CNN first reported last week that public records show Walker is on track to get a homestead tax exemption in Texas this year, which would save him about $1,500 for a $3 million home in the Dallas suburbs listed as his primary residence.
Walker took the tax break for his Texas home in 2021 and 2022 even after launching his Senate bid in Georgia, an official in the Tarrant County tax assessor’s office told CNN.
Walker, who previously played professional football for the Dallas Cowboys, lived in Texas for decades before registering to vote in Georgia in August 2021. He is well known in Georgia due to a storied football career at the University of Georgia.
In a statement, Amanda Sherman-Baity, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said: “Every day Herschel Walker’s pattern of dishonesty and disturbing conduct grows longer — and it’s all more proof that he has no business representing Georgians in the Senate. Georgia authorities should promptly answer the call to investigate Walker’s latest scandal, and Walker himself owes voters an explanation.”
Wagner reported from Washington. Eugene Scott and Azi Paybarah in Washington contributed to this report.
The 2022 Midterm Elections
Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.
What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.