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Georgia Polling Places Report Long Lines As Many Wait For Results Of Governor's Race

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: There were long lines at polling places across Georgia today. That state's governor's race has been one of the most bitter, hard-fought contests of these midterms. Democrat Stacey Abrams is running against Republican Brian Kemp. Reporter Johnny Kauffman of member station WABE joins us now from a watch party for Kemp. Hey, Johnny.


CHANG: So what's going on right now where you are?

KAUFFMAN: There's pretty good energy here.

CHANG: Yeah.

KAUFFMAN: Republicans from all over the state are trickling in. We're in the hometown of Secretary Brian Kemp here in Athens. It's about an hour and a half away from Atlanta. And most of the polls in Georgia have now closed, although at least a few of them are still open because they got going late earlier today. And there were really long lines all around metro Atlanta. These are lots of central Democratic votes here. And the campaign for Kemp's opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, says they're encouraged by the turnout, although I have heard some anecdotes from the Kemp campaign of long lines in Republican areas as well.

CHANG: Now, this race, it's been defined by the issue of voting rights. Kemp is the secretary of state. He's the one in charge of elections in Georgia. His opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, has been a longtime voting rights activist. How has that issue played out in the final days of this race?

KAUFFMAN: It's dominated, and it continues to dominate. It may dominate after - you know, throughout this week. There was a last-minute lawsuit filed today, calling for Kemp to step aside from overseeing the election. That's something Democrats and civil rights groups have been calling for for a long time.

And then this weekend, the secretary of state's office announced an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia for an alleged hack. They haven't presented any clear evidence of that. Democrats are calling it a last-minute political play. So there's all of this going on. Kemp and the Democrat, Abrams, have sparred for years over voting. And it's pretty significant, too, in this race because Abrams' strategy for winning is really all based on turning out people of color and low-propensity voters. So those obstacles for those folks can be especially important.

CHANG: Now, the way I understand the rules Georgia - if neither person wins the majority, there's going to be a runoff, right?

KAUFFMAN: Exactly.

CHANG: OK, so...

KAUFFMAN: Yeah, you have to get 50 percent of the vote plus one.

CHANG: OK, so has Brian Kemp talked about whether he would preside over that runoff should it happen - as the secretary of state?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah, so far he hasn't given any indication that he will step aside from his role if there is a recount or any sort of challenges as a result, or anything like that.

CHANG: OK. As the returns come in tonight, what are you going to be watching for all across Georgia?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah, we're watching turnout and we're watching where to see, you know, if turnout is high. It looks like there's a lot of energy on both sides. You know, President Trump visited Georgia this weekend. I was at that rally, and there was a lot - obviously a lot of energy there. And then, you know, we're really watching those numbers to see if anybody can get over 50 percent plus one and whether there'll be any challenges or a recount or anything after this - after tonight. It does - we're not expecting that this is going to be necessarily a clean finish to this race, but who knows.

CHANG: All right. That's Johnny Kauffman of member station WABE. Thank you so much, Johnny.

KAUFFMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Johnny joined WABE in March, 2015. Before joining the station, he was a producer at Georgia Public Broadcasting, and NPR in Washington D.C.