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Georgia Senate runoff early voting is finished. Does Walker or Warnock have the advantage?

The early voting runoff electorate was Blacker, older than in November. Election Day is coming. What does it mean?

ATLANTA — Early turnout ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff between Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker broke daily voting records on three separate occasions last week.

More than 1.86 million Georgians voted early, and election data reviewed by 11Alive appears to show Warnock with an edge heading into Election Day.

There are a few conflicting indicators. Early voters skewed older than they did in November, a positive for Republicans. 

But Black Georgians account for a larger portion of the early voting runoff electorate. An influx of nonwhite voters who did not cast ballots in the general election also bodes well for Warnock, Emory University political science professor Bernard L. Fraga told 11Alive.

"If I was a campaign manager, I'd rather be on the side of the Warnock camp than the Walker camp," said Fraga, who examined the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparities in voter turnout in his 2018 book The Turnout Gap. "Walker has a lot of ground to make up based on the early vote data that is in so far. If we assume that not a lot of voters are changing their mind, he's dependent on very high Election Day turnout."

The early voting breakdown

Turnout drops in runoffs. There were 673,000 fewer votes cast early ahead of the runoff compared to November.

However, single-day voting records were set.

More than 352,000 Georgians voted early on Friday, shattering the previous one day record for early voting in the 2016 Presidential Election where 252,715 voters cast their ballots.

More than 300,000 ballots were cast Nov. 28 and Nov. 29. ABC News reported 70,000 people voted early in person on Saturday, Nov. 26 after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that counties could provide it. More than three-quarters of the ballots were around Atlanta. 

Fraga told 11Alive that the record-breaking days are more a product of changes to state election law and the desire to vote early rather than increased enthusiasm about the race.

The records come after Republican-sponsored legislation changed Georgia's voting laws, condensing the state's runoff period and leaving five mandated days of early voting.

While the Black share of Georgia's electorate sank in November compared to recent years, Black voters returned to the polls ahead of the runoff at a higher rate than any other group in Georgia.

Data from the Georgia Secretary of State's Office shows 595,269 Black Georgians voted early in the runoff, roughly 80% of their early voting total from November. White Georgians only hit 71% of their November early voting totals. Hispanics hit 67% of their November total while Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders saw 68%. 

The sustained Black turnout in the runoff mirrors more recent election trends as other racial and ethnic groups see larger dropoffs, Fraga said.

"It makes the data really difficult to interpret except for the fact that Raphael Warnock nearly reached 50% of the vote with that November turnout," Fraga said. "So, if Black turnout is holding more steady than white turnout, it is probably a good sign for the Warnock camp."

The race is also attracting new voters, and a significant portion tend to vote Democratic. Nearly 78,000 voters who cast ballots ahead of the December runoff did not vote in the November election. Roughly 37% of them are Black. Approximately 59% of those new voters are non-white, according to GeorgiaVotes.com, a website that uses state data to analyze voting trends.

There is one potential positive for Walker — the runoff early voting electorate was older. More than 940,000 ballots were cast by voters 60 or older, according to state data. They are a demographic that tends to lean Republican.

However, Fraga told 11Alive that the racial breakdown of the electorate has to be considered alongside that. The numbers suggest an advantage for Warnock.

"Some estimates I've seen say that Warnock may be ahead (by) three percentage points versus where he was at the same time in November," Fraga said. "We're talking hundreds of thousands of votes that Herschel Walker needs to turn out on Election Day in addition to just what he would expect to get if everything was like it was in November."

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