georgia-faith-senate The Rev. Guillermo Arboleda at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia.
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“I implore Georgians of faith, and of course, those with no faith at all, to trust and engage in this voting process,” the Rev. Guillermo Arboleda said.

On the same day early voting began in Georgia, faith leaders in the state discussed the moral obligation for Georgians to vote in the Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5. 

The Rev. Guillermo Arboleda at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia, said the election season has been long and difficult for many, and more so because it began in 2017 when President Donald Trump announced his re-election campaign. He said Trump’s invalid claims about voter fraud have made it worse. 

“We are all kind of exhausted about the prospect of more voting,” Arboleda said. “But our election in Georgia is not complete.” 

The two races in which Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are trying to oust Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively, will decide which party controls the US Senate.

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“This race will be incredibly consequential, and hanging in the balance is which party will control the United States Senate for the next two years,” Arboleda said. “By proxy, this election will decide whether or not the incoming Biden administration will be able to accomplish its legislative agenda. The ability to turn Democratic bills into law or for Republicans to block the passage of those bills will affect the direction of the entire nation. But as it turns out, Georgians have the deciding vote in that matter.”

The panel also included Dr. Jeanine Abrams McLean, vice president of Fair Count, Minister Shavonne Williams, organizing ambassador at Faith in Public Life, and the Rev. Joshua Nelson, pastor at Emmanuel SDA Church in Albany, Georgia. 

According to Reuters, 168,000 people voted early in person in Georgia on Monday compared with 136,000 on Oct. 12, the first day of in-person voting for the presidential election. 

No one expects turnout to be as high as it was for the general election. But Bernard Fraga, an Emory University professor who studies voting, said overall turnout could reach 4 million.

By Friday, 1.2 million mail-in ballots had been requested, and 200,000 mail-in ballots were returned. In the general election, President-elect Joe Biden won 65% of the 1.3 million absentee ballots that were returned in Georgia, a record fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I implore Georgians of faith, and of course, those with no faith at all, to trust and engage in this voting process,” the Rev. Arboleda said. “There’s too much at stake for us to fall prey to fear-mongering and cynicism. Instead, let us take action and exercise the right to vote. Whichever way you intend to vote please remember that your vote is both a political and moral action.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.