Jessica McGowan / Stringer
Have your social feeds been swarmed with mentions of Georgia when you thought that everyone would still be celebrating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s groundbreaking win? This is because Georgia will be having a runoff election in January. This is important because the Senate is currently tied between the Republicans and the Democrats, with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (R) serving as Senate majority leader. With a stalemate in the Senate and McConnell at the helm, Biden and Harris won’t be able to pass nearly as much legislation as there will be constant back and forth. However, if Georgia’s two Democratic Senate candidates win their respective runoffs, the Democratic party will take control of the Senate, and Biden and Harris will be able to create more change when they take office in the middle of January.
Because the 17th Amendment of the Constitution requires that elections are called based upon the Plurality Rule (aka winner takes all), the winner must acquire the highest number of votes. However, depending on the state you live in, the process isn’t always as streamlined.
That’s because 10 states in the U.S. passed bills within their state legislature that impose a majority voting system, as is the case with Georgia. Unlike most other states (apart from the other nine that passed similar bills, of course), Georgia requires political candidates to win by a majority. It’s because of this that the Peach State is holding not one but two runoff elections on January 5th, 2021.
For the full 411 on runoff elections and how you can get involved in Georgia’s monumental races, scroll below.
What is a runoff election?
A runoff election is a secondary election that occurs when no candidate in the primary election wins a majority—50%—of the votes. Remember, runoffs happen in states that aren’t guided by the Plurality Rule (the most votes) but instead by the majority rule (though it’s worth mentioning that North Carolina is determined by a 40% majority and Louisiana by 35%).
How does a runoff election work?
When there isn’t a majority among the primary, the two top contenders go to a runoff election. In Georgia, runoff elections happen nine weeks after the primary election, hence why, following the November 3rd election, the Georgia election runoff is scheduled for early January 2021. Whoever earns the majority (at least 50%) of the votes wins.
Why are there two Senate runoffs in Georgia?
In the event of Senate races, it’s incredibly rare that two races within the same state coincide. That’s because senators serve staggered six-year terms so that no more than a third of the Senate is up for grabs at any one time. However, thanks to Johnny Isakson (R) stepping down in 2019—halfway through his third and final Senate term—that’s exactly what’s currently happening.
When Isakson stepped down, Georgia governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Kelly Loeffler (R) to fill his role on an interim basis. However, just because she took office on January 6th, 2020, doesn’t necessarily mean she gets to live out the role through its closing in 2022. Instead, a special election was held simultaneously alongside the other Senate seats that were up for grabs in Georgia, and since neither of the elections resulted in a majority, both are headed to a runoff in January.
In short, this means that Loeffler is up against Reverend Raphael Warnock (D), and Jon Ossoff (D) is challenging standing senator David Perdue (R), whose seat was originally supposed to be the only one up for grabs in 2020.
What’s the significance of two Georgia runoffs?
Currently, both parties hold 48 seats, with two seats up for grabs. If Perdue and Loeffler win, that means that the Senate will lean right, and Biden and Harris won’t be able to initiate as much change as they would if those seats flipped blue—which is precisely why all eyes are on Georgia’s runoff elections.
With that in mind, the big concern is that, according to The New York Times and Inside Elections, Democrats have won just one of seven statewide runoffs since the 1990s. While the left has historically had a disadvantage in the state, Georgia flipped blue in the 2020 presidential election, which means that this year may call for more historic celebrations should the runoff be won by Ossoff and Warnock.
Who can vote in the Georgia Senate runoff?
As much as we wish we could all vote in the Georgia runoff elections, the fact of the matter is that right is reserved for Georgia residents.
That said, if you’re a Georgia resident, you may vote early starting December 14th or vote with an absentee ballot or in person on January 5th. If you opt for an early absentee ballot, you can register as soon as November 18th. Whichever you choose, just keep in mind that all voters must be registered by December 7th. And if you’re worried that your age counts you out, know that if you’re 17 turning 18 by January 5th, you can still participate.
For more information on requirements, click here.
When will the winners be announced?
After an excruciating presidential election, in which it took days for results to roll in, you might be worried about the Georgia runoffs. Fortunately, since they’re statewide, results may be counted by the next day. Though given all that has happened in 2020, it’s best we prepare for the worst just in case.
How to donate to the Georgia Senate runoff
While not everyone can vote in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, there are other ways you can contribute to the effort. If you have funds to spare, you can donate to Warnock and Ossoff’s campaigns. Their joint effort to reclaim the Senate is represented by Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams’ organization to address voter suppression. Those who wish to donate may select the amount of their choosing.
Another way to donate to the cause is by devoting your time—either as a volunteer or as citizens—and using your voice to spread the word about the Georgia runoff election. If you live in Georgia, you can work the polls and act as line warmers; everyone else can volunteer to call and text voters to spread the word.
How to keep up with the Georgia runoff
To stay apprised of the elections, be sure to sign up for Fair Fight mobile alerts, set up news alerts from trusted media sources, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for important info shared in person and across social media. Now’s the time to do your due diligence—to do the work. After all, it’s only just begun.