Jon Ossoff

ATLANTA – Georgia’s U.S. Senate primary went into the wee hours Wednesday with the result far from certain.

With results trickling in very slowly in an election held with new voting machines and during the midst of a global pandemic, investigative journalist Jon Ossoff was on the edge of being forced into an August runoff for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue.

However, Ossoff’s opponent in that potential race remained unclear, with the second- and third-place candidates separated by a thin margin.

With 72% of precincts statewide reporting as of 1 a.m., Ossoff had 48% of the vote, according to unofficial results, just shy of the 50%-plus-one margin under state law needed to avoid a runoff.

Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson stood second with 15%, followed by Marietta businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico with 13% of the vote.

Civil and human rights lawyer Maya Smith, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Georgia chapter, was in fourth with 10% of the vote and likely out of the running. Three other candidates were in the single digits.

With the Democratic nomination undecided through Tuesday night, the candidates had to be content with criticizing the way Election Day was carried out by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. Voters in some parts of the state waited more than three hours to cast ballots, and many precincts decided to open for up to three additional hours to accommodate the huge turnout.

“The secretary of state had ample time to prepare for a smooth transition to the new voting machines he championed,” Amico said late Tuesday afternoon. “He’s had months to prepare for an election in the midst of a pandemic. And yet, he has failed – spectacularly – to provide counties with the training and resources they need to conduct today’s election safely and fairly.”

Ossoff campaign manager Ellen Foster released a statement early Wednesday calling the way the election was handled “outrageous.”

“Georgians of all political persuasions expect an efficient and reliable voting process, and they expect their elected leaders to have the courage and integrity to admit their own errors,” Foster said. “Secretary Raffensperger today personally demonstrated the very worst in public leadership by not just failing in his basic responsibilities, but also refusing to acknowledge those failures.”

Gabriel Sterling, statewide voting implementation manager for the secretary of state, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday night that 150 of Georgia’s 159 counties experienced no problems at the polls on Election Day. He said the vast majority of issues occurred in Fulton and DeKalb counties, which he blamed on inadequate training by local elections officials of an influx of younger poll workers replacing older volunteers wary of COVID-19, not the machines.

“Due to the nature of this election, we have said multiple times that election results will take time to receive, validate and post,” Sterling said in a statement released shortly before 1 a.m. “Voting in a pandemic has posed a variety of issues for the elections officials as well as the voters. We look forward to sharing full results.”

Ossoff was the leading fund-raiser in the race and held a commanding lead according to a poll released last week.