Elections in the US state of Georgia that will decide control of the Senate are too close to call amid a nail-biting ballot count. Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are neck and neck with Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
US President-elect Joe Biden’s Democrats need to win both seats to gain full control of Congress. The Republican party of outgoing President Donald Trump needs only to win one in order to retain the Senate.
All four candidates were in a dead heat with 98% of ballots counted from Georgia’s 159 counties. Mr Warnock has a wafer-thin lead over Ms Loeffler, while Mr Perdue is tied with Mr Ossoff.
Thousands of votes remain to be counted in the Atlanta suburbs such as DeKalb County, which is expected to go heavily for the Democrats. The BBC’s US partner CBS News still rates both races as toss-ups.
Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling told CNN that final results were expected by lunchtime on Wednesday.
More than three million votes – about 40% of the state’s registered voters – were cast before Tuesday. Early voting was a key benefit for Mr Biden in November’s White House election.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump – whose unsubstantiated claims that he was the victim of electoral fraud left Republican strategists worried about turnout in Tuesday’s Senate runoffs – continued to cast aspersions on the integrity of the vote in Georgia.
On Saturday, Mr Trump pushed Georgia’s top election official Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to “find” enough votes to overturn Mr Biden’s presidential election win in the state.
Mr Trump’s unproven claims of voter fraud may have eroded voter confidence in the election system, according to exit polls from Edison Research.
Its survey of voters leaving polling stations found around 70% of them were very or somewhat confident their votes would be counted accurately, a nearly 15% drop from November’s White House election.
Exit polls showed Georgians in a clean split over which party they want to control Congress: 49% favoured Republicans, while 48% said the Democratic party.
The demographics roughly matched that of November’s election. Black voters made up 29% of the vote, and these voters favoured the Democratic candidates nine-to-one. The Republicans, meanwhile, were winning a majority of white voters.
And these surveys showed that most voters were repeating the choices they made in November. Georgians who supported Mr Trump were casting ballots for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler, while Biden supporters were doing the same for Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff.
The vote in the Peach State will decide the balance of power in the Senate.
If both Democrats win, the Senate will be evenly split 50-50, allowing incoming Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.
This would be crucial for pushing through Mr Biden’s agenda, including on key issues such as healthcare and environmental regulations – policy areas strongly contended by Republicans.
The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden’s nominees for cabinet and judicial posts.
If Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both win, it would bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
Although the results are not final, it appears Republican worries about the two run-off elections in Georgia were well-founded. Their voters did not show up at the polls in the kinds of numbers they were hoping. Meanwhile, Democrats turned out at higher levels. In county after county, both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock outperformed their general election numbers.
The two Democrats, at times running as a team, appeared to complement each other’s electoral coalitions. Warnock energised black voters across the state. Mr Ossoff, although he slightly underperformed his Democratic counterpart, still attracted suburban and educated voters around Atlanta.
If it turns out both Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock prevail, Donald Trump will receive considerable blame for the Republican defeats. The party that loses the White House usually does better in subsequent congressional elections, not worse. And Georgia, despite Joe Biden’s victory there, is still a traditionally conservative state.
Instead, the two races were a dead heat coming down the stretch, as Mr Trump spent most of his time and energy disputing his electoral defeat and lobbing attacks at Republican leaders in the state.
It turns out that may not have been a wise electoral strategy – and it could cost Republicans control of the Senate.
None of the candidates reached the 50% needed to win outright in the elections in November, forcing Tuesday’s runoff elections under Georgia’s election rules.
Mr Perdue nearly prevailed first time out against Mr Ossoff, a former filmmaker, falling just short of the required majority with 49.7%.
The other seat had more candidates, with Democrat Mr Warnock recording 32.9% to Ms Loeffler’s 25.9%.
A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years but the party has been boosted by Mr Biden’s presidential election win over Mr Trump there. Mr Biden’s margin of victory was about 12,000 votes among five million cast.
If elected, Mr Warnock would become Georgia’s first black US senator and 33-year-old Mr Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member since Mr Biden in 1973.