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Georgia Holds 2 Runoff Elections For U.S. Senate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's catch up now on what is happening here in Georgia. After nearly two months of extra campaigning, after nearly a billion dollars spent, the results in the Senate runoff elections are coming in fast. Control of the Senate through the first two years of President-elect Biden's term - that is what is at stake. I want to bring in reporter Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. He's also host of the podcast Battleground: Ballot Box.

Hey there, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you have been covering Georgia's voting process so closely for years now. Just give us the - your top line. What are you noticing as results are starting to roll in?

FOWLER: Well, you know, the thing I'm noticing most is votes. We're, right now, sitting at more than 1.2 million votes counted as of, you know, 8:15. And it's going a lot faster or it seems like a lot faster than before. That's because the state election board changed a rule that required counties to start processing absentee ballots last Monday so that they could be ahead and have those results coming in quicker instead of it dripping, dripping, dripping over the next several days. And the other big top line that I'm noticing is that Jon Ossoff is running only slightly behind Raphael Warnock. And that's important because if this is a close, close race, it could be the difference-maker between one Democrat or two or one runoff, two, or a recount or no recounts.

KELLY: And just to clarify, when you say they are allowed to start processing, in fact, they have to start processing early. That's things like opening the envelope, just getting things ready to scan the second that they could, which was close of business today.

FOWLER: Exactly, so it's a time-consuming process done ahead of time.

KELLY: All right. All right. Give us a sense - where there any problems with voting today, any lines, any machine dysfunction, anything at all? - because just to remind people of the incredible backdrop here, these runoffs have taken place amid not one but two massive challenges; the pandemic and an assault on the voting process itself by President Trump.

FOWLER: Well, most of the votes have come already through absentee by mail or early in-person voting all across the state. Things were relatively quiet. There were maybe some lines of an hour or so in counties at different points throughout the day. And there was only one, really, major reported problem where some poll workers didn't have the correct access cards to be able to start the machines in the morning, but they used a paper backup system to keep things moving along. And all in all, it was the second smooth election in a row we've had as far as Election Day goes.

KELLY: Just to follow on what I was raising there, the assault on the voting process itself by President Trump - whoever wins, among the casualties of this election will be anything resembling Republican unity in Georgia. How are Georgia voters responding to that?

FOWLER: Well, you know, Democrats are, you know, riled up because of the call that President Trump had with our secretary of state over the weekend, where he pressured the secretary to try and overturn the results. But also, Republicans are energized too because they think that, you know, the president is defending the vote. And they turned out today. But then there's people like Wayne and Beth Leever in middle Georgia we talked to that makes things even more unpredictable.

WAYNE LEEVER: Well, we voted against the Republicans this time.

BETH LEEVER: And I've never voted Democrat, so it was a big change for me.

FOWLER: So we just really don't know how things are going to shake out. But definitely, people just don't trust the system like they used to.

KELLY: That suggests that whoever wins and whenever we get the result, tonight's results will be controversial and possibly contested.

FOWLER: Exactly. If a candidate finishes within half a percentage point of the other one, they can request a recount, which would have every single vote run through scanners again. And it's definitely a safe idea to think that there's going to be litigation coming no matter who wins.

KELLY: So does the fact that we're getting returns maybe earlier than had been anticipated - does that adjust your timeline at all in terms of when we might know a winner in one or both of these races?

FOWLER: Well, it just really depends on how many people show up during Election Day, Mary Louise, because if there's a larger turnout, then that means that it's going to be a closer race.

KELLY: Yeah. All right. Well, the ballots are coming in. We appreciate you keeping us updated.

Thank you, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you.

KELLY: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.