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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Voters wait in line at a polling place at Dawnville United Methodist Church in Dawnville, Ga. on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

One of the major reasons why Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia were defeated by Democratic challengers in the runoff election on Tuesday was lackluster voter turnout in reliably red counties.

In all seven counties in Northwest Georgia, which lean Republican, voter turnout dropped significantly between the November general election and Tuesday's runoff.

Democratic strongholds also saw a drop in turnout, typical for a runoff election compared to a general election, but they did not lose near as many voters as the GOP-leaning counties.

In Walker County, 29,341 voted in November, compared to 24,175 this month. In Chattooga County, 10,041 people voted in November and 8,245 in January. That's a more than 17% drop in turnout for each. Turnout was down over 15% in Gordon and Murray counties and down 14% in Catoosa and Dade counties.

In Whitfield County, where over a third of the population is Hispanic (in Dalton that number is nearly 50%), voter turnout still took a dip (13.6%) but was the smallest dip of the seven counties. Whitfield County voted for the two Democratic candidates at a higher rate than any other county in the region.

On average, turnout was down 15.5% in the seven Northwest Georgia counties.

Turnout in the left-leaning Atlanta area was also down, but not as far. In DeKalb County, turnout was down by about 9% (373,439 down to 337,321 votes), 9.5% in Fulton County (528,777 down to 478,132) and 11% in Gwinnett County (416,458 down to 369,296).

Because those counties are so highly populated with a majority of Democratic voters, the smaller, more rural areas needed to keep up with turnout and even exceed those differences in order for Loeffler and Perdue to have a chance.

Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting system implementation manager, said President Donald Trump is to blame for Loeffler and Perdue's loss because of his ongoing undermining of confidence in the electoral system.

"It will fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his actions since Nov. 3," Sterling told CNN Tuesday night. "When you tell people your vote doesn't count, it's been stolen and people start to believe that. Then you go to the two senators and tell them to ask the secretary of state to resign and trigger a civil war inside the Republican Party when we need Republicans to unite."

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Election Day in Georgia

When asked why he thought voter turnout took such a hit in Catoosa County, Jeremy Jones — vice chair of the Catoosa County Republican Party — said in a message simply, "I do not know why."

Rep. Mike Cameron (R-Rossville) is the new House representative for Georgia's District 1, which includes Dade and Walker counties. Cameron said he was extremely disappointed in the voter turnout numbers and said people are discouraged and don't have confidence in the voting system.

"We can't have this going on," Cameron said. "We need to find out the problems with the system and change the perception. I'm 61 years old and I've never seen this much outrage over voting in my lifetime. People are really angry and they felt like they've been cheated and we can't have that. If people are feeling disenfranchised and throw their hands up and don't come to the polls, that's not good for our country."

Cameron doesn't blame Trump on the low voter turnout. He doesn't feel like Trump should be the scapegoat in all of this but instead wants to look at the issue more critically.

"People are passionate about President Trump in a way that I haven't seen in my lifetime," he said. "We need to take the passion and anger out of it and look at the hard facts."

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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