A fiercely competitive Senate runoff in Georgia has national implications as Democrats try to solidify their hold on the upper chamber of Congress. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is trying to win a full Senate term against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Warnock got over 37,000 more votes than Walker in the Nov. 8 election, out of nearly 4 million votes counted. However, Warnock fell just shy of a majority, requiring Tuesday’s runoff.

Warnock was first elected to the Senate in a runoff special election in January 2021 — two months after the 2020 general election. Unlike in 2020, this year’s Georgia runoff won’t decide which party controls the Senate. Democrats already have a 50-49 seat edge, giving them control of the chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break any ties.

Another big change from 2020 is the compressed schedule, with this year’s runoff election coming just four weeks after the general election thanks to Georgia’s new election law. In 2020, the runoff was two months after the general election.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

ELECTION DAY

Polls close at 7 p.m. ET.

HOW GEORGIA VOTES

Voters in Georgia can cast a ballot one of three ways: by mail, in person during early voting and in person on Election Day. Mail ballots can be requested by any registered voter in Georgia without needing to provide an excuse. Completed domestic ballots must arrive at county election offices by Election Day to be counted. Early in-person voting runs through Friday.

The state Supreme Court allowed counties to hold early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving, rejecting arguments from the state and Republican groups that Georgia election law does not allow early in-person voting on a Saturday if the Thursday or Friday preceding it is a holiday.

The court agreed with Warnock’s campaign and Democratic groups who said that the prohibition applies only to primaries and general elections, not runoff elections.

DECISION NOTES

The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.

Should a candidate declare victory or offer a concession before the AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that AP has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

The AP may call a race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome. In Georgia, a candidate can request a recount if the margin is 0.5% or less.

Q: WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THE GENERAL ELECTION?

A: Warnock finished with 49.4% of the vote in the Nov. 8 election, compared to 48.5% for Walker. Warnock beat Walker by 10 percentage points among votes cast before Election Day, both by mail and in person. Walker won the Election Day vote by 15 percentage points, but only 36% of voters cast their ballots on Nov. 8.

The share of voters casting ballots before Election Day is almost certain to be smaller in the runoff because of the new law shortening the time between the general election and the runoff.

Q: WHAT’S CHANGED SINCE THE PANDEMIC ELECTION OF 2020?

A: Georgia Republicans pushed through a sweeping new voting law in 2021 that has made it harder to vote by absentee ballot, leading Democrats to push people to vote early at polling places instead. The state also rolled back its pandemic-inspired drop boxes, limiting counties to a smaller number and requiring them to be available only inside buildings during business hours.

The state has also reduced the use of provisional ballots for people who show up to vote at the wrong polling place and has reinforced the ability to challenge voter qualifications.

Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

A: Georgia has more than 7.8 million registered voters. As of Dec. 2, more than 1.4 million people had cast early votes by mail or in person, far below the 2.3 million people who had voted as of six days before the Nov. 8 election.

Q: HOW LONG DOES COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

A: For the Nov. 8 general election, Georgia counted 99% of votes by 2 a.m. the day after the election. Almost all votes were counted by noon on Wednesday.

Q: WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS WITH EARLY RETURNS?

A: Democratic votes are concentrated in the state’s main urban areas, especially in and around Atlanta. Those counties are also the state’s most populous, and vote counting typically takes longer than in smaller rural districts throughout the state that are dominated by Republicans.

In the Nov. 8 election, many counties released the results of advance votes first, giving Warnock an early 14-point lead. As more Election Day votes were counted in the state’s rural areas, Warnock’s lead evaporated and Walker took a 1-point lead around 10 p.m. ET. Warnock regained the lead a few hours later as more votes from in and around Atlanta were counted.

READ UP ON THE RACES

Here’s more on the campaigns in Georgia:

— Obama urges Georgia Democrats to push turnout for Warnock

— Ga. Senate runoff between Warnock, Walker has bitter closing

— Doubts about candidates tipped the scales in tightest races

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Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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