ATLANTA (NewsNation Now) — More than 2.8 million Georgians have voted so far in a U.S. Senate runoff election, according to state data published on Thursday about the closely watched race that will determine whether President-elect Joe Biden’s Democrats control both chambers of Congress and can more easily advance his agenda.
The figures, published on the last day of early in-person voting ahead of the Jan. 5 election, add to an already record-high turnout for a Georgia runoff, exceeding the 2.1 million ballots cast in a 2008 Senate contest.
The stakes are high for a momentous political struggle in Georgia during President Donald Trump’s final lame-duck days in office. The state is closely divided, with Democrats making gains on Republicans, fueled by a surge of new voters. But no Democrat has been elected senator in some 20 years.
The runoffs pit Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbent Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Perdue’s campaign announced Thursday that the senator will quarantine after close contact with someone infected with coronavirus, just days before the hotly contested runoff. The runoff was necessary because no candidate won more than 50% of the vote on Nov. 3.
Georgia’s increase in voting, including among Black voters who have historically supported the Democratic Party, suggest a competitive contest in a state Biden narrowly won in November. Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the Peach State since Bill Clinton.
About a third of the ballots accepted so far come from voters who identified themselves as Black when they registered to vote, up from about 27% in the November election.
The state releases information about the number of people who voted, but does not tally their votes until election day.
The outcome of the two races will be critical in shaping Biden’s agenda after he takes office.
If Republicans win one or both Senate seats in Georgia, they will retain a slim majority in the chamber and can block Biden’s legislative goals and judicial nominees. If Democrats win both, the chamber will be split 50-50, giving the tiebreaking vote to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Early voting – both by mail and at in-person voting centers – appears high across the state, including in Republican areas.
Across more than 2,600 voting precincts in the state, county officials have accepted roughly the same number of ballots in precincts carried by Trump in November as in those carried by Biden, state data shows.
Reuters contributed to this report.