Suspense all round as Georgia votes in two run-off polls

Voters in Georgia headed to the polls yesterday in the state’s two run-off races which will determine control of the US Senate and, with that, President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to carry out his agenda.

Polls will start closing at 7pm local time (8am today in Singapore). Results will begin coming in soon after that, but it may be days before the winners are known, if the race is tight.

Election eve campaigning was at times overshadowed by outgoing President Donald Trump’s ongoing attempt to overturn the result of November’s presidential election, which he lost.

“That was a rigged election,” he said on Monday night, at the start of his rally speech in Georgia, meant to drum up support for Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are facing off against their Democrat challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

“If the liberal Democrats take the Senate and the White House – they’re not going to take this White House, I’m going to fight like hell,” said Mr Trump, who again raised conspiracy theories, repeating disproven claims of electoral fraud.

The Democratic Party must win both races to gain control of the Senate. But also looming is today’s formal certification of states’ electoral votes in Congress to confirm Mr Biden’s victory.

Mr Biden travelled to Georgia on Monday afternoon to rally in support of Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff, arguing that their election would break the gridlock in Washington and enable the Democrats to make progress on jobs, healthcare, justice and the environment.

Most immediately, having their votes in the Senate could enable Democrats to roll out the US$2,000 (S$2,640) Covid-19 stimulus cheques, Mr Biden said. Republicans oppose the cheques, although Mr Trump does not.

Mr Biden also criticised Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler for attempting to subvert the Constitution and US democracy in backing Mr Trump’s attempts to reverse his loss. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath of office to Donald Trump, not the United States Constitution,” he said.

“Politicians cannot assert, take or seize power,” he said, adding: Power has to be given, granted – by the American people.”

Mr Trump is treating today’s session of Congress as his final option to overturn the election results and demanding that Republican allies aid in the effort. A group of Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz, have said they will contest the certification, but they do not have the numbers to succeed.

Other Republicans, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, have objected, largely on the grounds that for Congress to overturn electoral votes certified by the states would be undemocratic and unconstitutional.

At Monday’s rally, Mr Trump expressed his displeasure with Republicans – labelled the “Surrender Caucus” by him on Twitter – who were not on board with him.

“I’ll be back here in a year and a half campaigning against your governor… and your crazy secretary of state,” he said of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger.

Both are lifelong Republicans once championed by Mr Trump, but who have refuted his claims of voter fraud and his pressures to deny the election result, most recently Mr Raffensperger, who did so in a phone call with Mr Trump last Saturday that was leaked.

Mr Trump also lamented that Supreme Court Justices appointed by him were “not stepping up to the plate” in not accepting his legal challenges. He also said he wanted Vice-President Mike Pence, who will preside over today’s Congress session, to help in overturning the results of the election.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” said Mr Trump at the Georgia rally. “If he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

Republicans fear Mr Trump’s mixed messaging and insistence over fraud could discourage the party’s voters from turning out.

“This is all easily, provably false, yet the President persists, and by doing so, undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system,” said state election official Gabriel Sterling on Monday, in a press conference where he systematically debunked Mr Trump’s fraud claims.

“Given the nature of the President’s statements… we are specifically asking and telling you to turn out and vote tomorrow,” said Mr Sterling, a lifelong Republican. “Do not self-suppress your own vote.”

Meanwhile, the political turmoil has the US on edge. In a letter released on Monday, more than 170 leaders of prominent businesses, including Pfizer and Microsoft, urged Congress to accept the electoral college results.

Pro-Trump supporters are gathering in Washington ahead of today’s Congress session, with the capital city’s mayor urging residents to stay home and activating the National Guard over fears of protests turning violent.

Leader of the far-right Proud Boys group Enrique Tarrio was arrested on Monday, shortly after he arrived in the capital, on charges of property destruction from a protest a month ago.