ATLANTA — Georgia’s campaign for governor neared an end on Monday as the state prepared to render its judgment in a contest long imbued with undercurrents of race and history, and freshly roiled by a swirl of allegations about election security.
But Tuesday’s vote could prove to be only an opening act. Independent polls and officials in both parties suggested that Brian Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state and the Republican nominee, and Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate who is vying to become the first black woman elected as a governor in the United States, could end up in a December runoff after a tense general election campaign.
“The Democrats looked at this as an opportunity, especially with an African-American female, to really spend some money, and, of course, the Republicans had to respond,” said Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican former congressman from west Georgia, referring to the state-record amount of spending for a governor’s race. He described this campaign as the most intense he could recall since the General Assembly had to settle the 1966 governor’s race.
Nearly 2.1 million people voted early in Georgia, according to statistics that state officials released on Monday, more than doubling the previous record for an election year in which the Governor’s Mansion was at stake. Georgia does not register voters by party, and the political leanings of the early voters were unclear.
But with millions of Georgians still expected to cast their ballots on Tuesday, both Ms. Abrams and Mr. Kemp spent Monday making their final arguments across a state still absorbing the weekend decision by Mr. Kemp, Georgia’s chief elections regulator, to open an investigation of the Democratic Party of Georgia for what his office characterized as “a failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system.”
His office offered limited evidence to support its allegations, which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Monday it was reviewing.
Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate, who is vying to become the first black woman elected as a governor in the United States.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times
For Mr. Kemp, the pending inquiry was hardly a talking point in the campaign’s waning hours. Basking in the glow of a Sunday afternoon rally with President Trump, with whom he has closely aligned himself, Mr. Kemp argued Monday, as Republicans have for months, that this year’s campaign for governor carried the starkest contrast of any here in recent decades.
“This race is about vision, it’s about two different directions,” Mr. Kemp said during a campaign stop in Savannah, where he pledged to lower taxes, touted a hard line on immigration issues and directly tied his agenda to the state’s retiring governor and his predecessor, both Republicans.
Ms. Abrams, who campaigned across southeast Georgia on Monday, has championed a proposal to expand Medicaid and called for robust funding of public education, a platform she was scheduled to take to six cities on Tuesday before the polls closed.
“We cannot afford to be tired or cynical,” Ms. Abrams said on Twitter on Monday. “The cost is too great to let someone else write our story or erase our progress. It’s time to step up, to knock on every door and to earn every vote.”
Indeed, the sanctity of the franchise has dominated the closing days of the campaign, with Mr. Kemp facing a wave of accusations that he sought to suppress the vote and Democrats erupting in anger after his office’s Sunday morning announcement of an investigation.
That fury stretched into Monday, when Seth Bringman, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, described the inquiry and the allegations more broadly as “phony.”
Brian Kemp is facing a wave of accusations that he sought to suppress the vote, and Democrats erupted in anger after his office’s Sunday morning announcement of an investigation.CreditAudra Melton for The New York Times
According to Mr. Kemp’s office, the inquiry was sparked by an email that showed a person named Rachel Small “talking about trying to hack the Secretary of State’s system.” The email was sent to Sara Ghazal, the Democrats’ voter protection director.
In a statement Sunday, Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kemp’s office, seemed to indicate that Ms. Small was a mysterious person who was a key to unraveling the case. “Who is Rachel Small?” Ms. Broce said. “Is that her real name, and for whom does she work?”
Georgia Democrats said moments later that Ms. Small was a Democratic Party volunteer who they said had merely forwarded Ms. Ghazal an email from a concerned citizen who was pointing out potential vulnerabilities in the state elections system.
This citizen, they said, was not formally affiliated with the party, and Democratic officials contend that no one with formal ties to the party apparatus sought to hack the system.
Ms. Broce said that her office obtained the emails after Ms. Ghazal forwarded them to two Georgia Tech cybersecurity professors, including one who serves as an expert on a commission created by Mr. Kemp to analyze the security of the state’s elections system.
“That was absolutely the due diligence and the right course of action,” Mr. Bringman said. “And for bringing this issue to the attention of the secretary of state’s cybersecurity expert, Brian Kemp rewarded us by launching a phony investigation.”
Sonny Perdue, left, the agriculture secretary and former Georgia governor, was among those who made calls on behalf of Brian Kemp.CreditAudra Melton for The New York Times
Speaking at an airport near Atlanta on Monday, Mr. Kemp defended his decision, which led to renewed criticism that he was tampering with an election he was both running in and overseeing.
“I’m not worried about how it looks,” said Mr. Kemp, who has faced weeks of skepticism from federal judges about his office’s interpretation of state elections laws. “I’m doing my job. This is how we would handle any investigation when something like this comes up.”
Although Mr. Kemp’s office denied on Sunday that its websites were susceptible to security issues, ProPublica and Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that on Sunday night they discovered that the state was rewriting portions of the pages’ coding. Ms. Broce told the news organizations that the state routinely revised its computer code.
Mr. Kemp’s campaign tried to deflect attention from the issue, urging supporters on Monday afternoon to circulate a picture of members of the New Black Panther Party campaigning for Ms. Abrams.
“PLEASE SHARE our post to spread the word and help us DEFEAT the extreme left on Tuesday!” the campaign said in a message to supporters.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Abrams, Abigail Collazo, countered Monday that it was Mr. Kemp who had not adequately distanced himself from supporters viewed as being on the fringes of political discourse. Ms. Abrams “is a leader committed to running an inclusive campaign focused on bringing all Georgians together,” she said.
Ms. Abrams, who campaigned across southeast Georgia on Monday, has championed a proposal to expand Medicaid and called for robust funding of public education.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times
To win outright on Tuesday, a candidate must secure a majority of the vote; a Libertarian candidate is running against Ms. Abrams and Mr. Kemp.
The late bursts of campaigning and drama have unfolded only after much of the electorate completed ballots.
Many of those voters were the targets of intense efforts by both parties to draw their supporters to the polls.
Lauren Atwater, a 27-year-old from East Point, voted before a surge of reminders came her way through the mail and the internet, but she said she had heard — or maybe simply noticed — more contacts from campaigns this year. And there was also, she said, a social factor.
“People are like, ‘What can I do to at least step up?’’’ she said. “And if they’re not personally wondering what they can do, someone in their corner is pushing them to make those decisions and get out there and vote and stop just complaining after the fact.”
At least some Republicans signaled similar enthusiasm over how national issues would drive their votes in Georgia.
“I voted for Trump,” Bruce Carter, 62, said as he waited for the president’s Sunday afternoon rally for Mr. Kemp. “I voted Republican.”
But across Georgia, there was also a sense of hope that, perhaps, the race would draw to a close by daybreak on Wednesday.
“I’m ready to go back to some normal TV,” Mr. Westmoreland, the former congressman, said. “There are some crazy ads.”