An Explanation of the Runoff Elections in Georgia

By Sunny Sivakumar (’21)

While the race for the President may have been called in favor of President-Elect Joe Biden, that doesn’t mean that this election is over. In fact, it won’t be over for a while, due to the runoff elections in Georgia, which will determine which party will take control of the Senate for the next two years. Currently, the Republican Party has a majority there, but these two Senate races could make it a tie that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break. Therefore, it’s important to understand when and why this is happening. 

The first thing to understand is that a runoff election is essentially a redo of an election. It is happening because there is a law in Georgia that states that a candidate must have over 50% of the votes, or a majority, in order to win. If this does not occur, the two candidates with the most votes have a runoff. The reasoning behind these runoffs is rooted in racism. The New York Times reports that the system was created to “to preserve white political power in a majority-white state and diminish the influence of Black politicians”. 

However, the rule still is in effect today, and this is what happened during the recent election, as neither Democrats nor Republicans had 50% of the votes for either of the two seats. Both of Georgia’s races are in the Senate, which does not normally happen but has occurred because one of senators stepped down last year. The first runoff will feature incumbent Senator David Perdue, a Republican, against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat. The other involves appointed senator Kelly Loeffler, who replaced the previous senator and is also a Republican, against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

A runoff election happens in the same way as a real election, just later. According to the New York Times, this one will happen “on the Tuesday of the ninth week after the election” in accordance with Georgia law. This means it will be January 5th, 2021, before we know what will happen in the senate. Voting by mail and early voting are still possible in this election, with early voting beginning three weeks before the election day. There are a few other runoffs for positions on the state and local level, but they happen on December 1st instead.

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