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Voters line outside the High Museum polling station in Atlanta, Georgia on the first day of voting in the state's Senate runoffs. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

People lined up outside polling places across Georgia on Monday for the first day of early voting in the state's two runoff elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

The big picture: More than 1.2 million people have already requested mail-in absentee ballots and more than 260,000 have returned them as of Monday, per data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

  • Absentee voting was key to Biden's victory in the state, where Democrats, largely led by Stacey Abrams launched massive get-out-the-vote efforts.
  • Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are fighting to keep their seats against Democrat challengers, Rev. Raphael Warnock. and Jon Ossoff.
  • Democrats are looking to gain the two seats for a 50-50 split in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking any ties.
  • Which party controls the Senate will determine how easily President-elect Joe Biden is able to get his agenda through.

What they're saying: “It looks like we’re going to have a high-turnout election,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, told the Wall Street Journal Monday.

  • “I would encourage all the candidates to make sure that they run hard, because we don’t have a runoff after the runoff. This is it," added Raffensperger, who has come under fire from fellow Republicans for standing by the results of the presidential election, including President Trump.
  • Loeffler tweeted Monday: "EARLY VOTING IS UNDERWAY! Find your polling location. Make a plan. And let’s save the American Dream!"
  • Warnock said on Twitter that only "in America is my story even possible. While it was humbling to vote for myself today, there’s more than a name on the ballot. Health care is on the ballot. A livable wage is on the ballot. Voting rights are on the ballot. So make a plan to vote today, and let’s win."
  • Perdue, on an early vote tour, tweeted, "The stakes are too high to sit this one out — we need EVERY Republican to show up. Vote early starting today!"
  • Ossoff echoed Warnock’s message in a video posted to Twitter. “Make a plan to vote for health, jobs and justice. Let’s make a difference for the people.

The state of play: Early voting in the state ends Dec. 31.

  • There will be fewer early voting sites in some parts of the state than in the general election, angering some voting rights groups, per CNN.
  • Election day is Jan. 5.

Worth noting: Some Republicans are concerned that Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud, including in Georgia, and his attacks on the state's Republican governor may hurt the party in January.

Go deeper: Trump's election misinformation casts shadow over Georgia Senate debate

Go deeper

Senate Mischief Makers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In a closely divided Congress, the Senate’s Mischief Makers could thwart their leaders' best-laid plans with their own agendas.

Why it matters: On Wednesday night, we shared a list of House members who our leadership sources on the Hill consider some of the top troublemakers. But their Senate counterparts may be even more impactful in a 50-50 chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tiebreaking vote.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker