runoff Senate election
Voters line up to vote in the early morning in Pooler, Jan. 5, 2021. Credit: Margaret Coker/Stanley R. Boxer

Voters in Pooler, one of the fastest growing towns in Georgia, got in line before sunrise this morning to go to the polls, a fitting way to start this U.S. Senate runoff election.

People shivering in the 20-person line at 7 a.m. at the Pooler Recreation Center on South Rogers Street included healthcare workers, a sheriff’s deputy, retirees and a family whose 18-year-old high school student was going to vote for the first time. Both parties are worried about their chances of winning – a sharp turnaround from a month ago when Republicans thought they had a lock on the election. Polls show a tight race, and final tallies are not likely to come until Wednesday

Here are five things to watch this evening as the polls close and the votes are tallied.

1- Black voter turnout. At least 30% of the 3 million mail-in ballots and in-person early voters were Black, a strong indicator for the strength of Democrats in this election. The Democratic firm TargetSmart , which models the state’s voter file, determined that Black voters cast nearly 33 percent of the early ballots as of Monday, 3 points more than at the same point in November. Watch for exit polls tonight that talk about the overall turnout of Blacks and people of color. If the overall turnout figure remains above 30%, that’s going to be a strong sign of a Warnock-Ossoff lead.

2- Youth Vote. Savannah-born Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have been a lightning rod for young voters and people of color who are excited about possibly making history and sending Georgia’s first Black senator to Washington – Warnock — and someone who not only correctly pronounces Atlanta HipHop artists’ names but knows their lyrics — Ossoff. For the Nov. 3 race, Georgia had one of the highest turnouts in the nation for voters between the ages of 18 and 29, according to Tuft University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Early voting numbers ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff suggest a sustained engagement of younger and first-time voters as well. Just over 12% of the 3 million votes in before Jan. 5 are from people aged 18-29.

3- White rural voters. The reason that President Donald Trump held his Monday night rally in Dalton wasn’t because he was carpet shopping for his post-White House residence. Republicans urged him to try to rev up the normally reliable base in northwest and northeast Georgia which is now deeply divided about whether to trust the state’s electoral system. For the last five weeks, conservative talk radio and television stations have been carrying the message that Georgia’s vote was stolen from Trump – a message that congressional leaders have also repeated. That could have unintended consequences. A partner news organization sent a small snapshot of Dalton early this morning: Despite Trump’s exhortations to vote, there were no lines at several local precincts at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

4- Ground game.  Gov. Brian Kemp was on local radio this morning urging a strong Republican turnout today. That’s because political analysts all know that the GOP is likely starting the day down due to the strong early voter turnout. With few undecided voters in Georgia, Republican strategists say that a total Election Day turnout of 700,000 voters would probably mean the Democrats would win, while anywhere more than 900,000 voters on Election Day would likely mean the GOP has pulled even or taken the lead. Politico analysts say around 800,000 would be the “water line” that would have either party with an even chance of winning – a number based on the idea that Election Day voting will be down by the same proportion as early voting when compared to the November elections.

5- Safety. Obviously there can only be a fair and free election if the county officials who are helping us fulfill our voting rights, the poll volunteers and the voters themselves can go about their business safely. Local law enforcement and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have set up contingency plans in case of any disruptions at local precincts during Election Day. There is no indication of any potential threat to polling places – and thankfully, as of 10:30 a.m. there were no reports of more mundane problems around Coastal Georgia precincts either.

If you haven’t voted already and need to check your voting status or the right precinct where you need to go to cast your ballot, check the Secretary of State’s website. If you need a ride to the polls, you can call the New Georgia Project, Ride To The Polls or your local church.

Look for updates this afternoon, throughout the evening and tomorrow at