(NewsNation) — Early voting in Georgia came to an end Friday with a record number of voters casting ballots in a midterm election despite widespread concerns that a recently passed law would make it harder to vote in the Peach State.
As of Friday evening, more than 2.4 million Georgians will have voted in the 2022 midterms, either by voting in-person or sending an absentee ballot by mail, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
That total is the highest ever for early voting in a midterm election in Georgia and about 25% more than at this point in 2018, the Secretary of State’s office said in a statement.
The sizeable turnout comes despite warnings from Democratic politicians that a 2021 bill passed by the state’s Republican legislature would make it more difficult to vote.
State officials touted the benefits of the new law on Friday.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told NewsNation he expects the election results to arrive quickly because the state’s new rules allow officials to begin pre-scanning early votes.
When asked whether voters could expect results on election night, Raffensperger said it will depend how close the race is, but his office will know how many ballots remain uncounted by 10 p.m.
The Election Integrity Act of 2021 overhauled elections in Georgia and implemented new measures GOP lawmakers said would make voting more secure. The bill included a new photo ID requirement for those voting absentee by mail, reduced the number of ballot drop boxes in some counties and mandated three weeks of in-person early voting, among other changes.
Other parts of the legislation — like provisions that made it illegal to hand out free food and drink to people waiting in line at polling stations — were more controversial.
Democrats criticized the new law and warned it would restrict voting access, especially for Black voters.
President Biden likened the new rules to “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” and the state’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said it would lead to voter suppression.
The criticism was so widespread in 2021 that Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. Major companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, which are headquartered in Georgia, also condemned the law.
In September, a federal judge ruled against a group associated with Abrams who had challenged the law, finding that it did not violate the constitutional rights of voters.
on the campaign trail
Both incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are hoping some familiar names can help get them over the finish line in the state’s highly watched Senate race.
In a campaign speech for Warnock, former President Barack Obama compared Walker — a former football star turned politician — to someone flying a plane without being a pilot.
“Let’s say you are at the airport and you see Mr. Walker and say ‘Hey there is Herschel Walker — Heisman winner — let’s have him fly the plane,'” Obama said.
On the other side, Tulsi Gabbard, a former Hawaiian Congresswoman who recently split from the Democratic Party, campaigned for Walker.
“The people of Georgia have been done a disservice by the incumbent Senator Warnock who has been a rubber stamp for the radical policies coming out of the Biden administration,” Gabbard told NewsNation.
She said she wasn’t worried about Walker’s lack of political experience because he “speaks from his heart” and is focused on serving the people of Georgia.
Warnock currently has a 55% chance of winning the race, compared to 45% for Walker, according to Decision Desk HQ’s forecasting model.
Georgia is one of the only states in the nation that mandates runoff elections between the top two finishers following general elections in which no candidate achieves a majority.
That means if neither candidate receives 50% of the vote in next week’s election, the race will head to a runoff vote in December.
The Georgia gubernatorial race isn’t expected to be as close. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has a 93% chance of defeating Stacey Abrams, his Democratic challenger, according to FiveThirtyEight.