The Two Runoff Elections in Georgia and Why It Matters

"American Flag" (CC BY 2.0) by Mike Mozart

The special rematches in January will likely decide the control of the Senate.

The people’s eyes and the political world shifted to Georgia, where two runoff elections are set to be held in early January. This runoff election will determine which party will control the Senate. The contests will be out two weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration, and this will either swing the majority to Democrats or leave Republicans in charge. 

If Democrats win the runoff elections, the new president will be handed a broad power to push through nominations that he prefers and also push out his policies and agendas. On the other hand, if Republicans win, it will allow them to influence Biden’s administration and his plans. 

Tens of millions of campaign cash are then expected to pour in Georgia in the weeks ahead. This will fund a series of political advertising while the party leaders and groups from both sides train their attention on the races.

What is a runoff election?

A runoff election is a rematch held when none of the candidates meet the criteria to win. Under the laws in Georgia, candidates must at least receive a majority vote to win the election. However, if no candidate surpasses 50%, the top two candidates will face off again in a runoff election in order to come up with a winner. 

“American flag and white flag with vote text on white background” (CC BY 2.0) by Marco Verch

According to an Interior Department report, Georgia’s runoff law was formed in the 1960s as a way to maintain white political power in a majority-white state and reduce the influence of Black politicians who could easily win a multicandidate race with a number of votes. 

In addition to this, the nonpartisan political newsletter also reported that since the 1990s, Democrats had won only one of the seven statewide runoffs in general or special elections.

Why does Georgia have two runoff elections?

In most cases, Senate elections are staggered so that the two seats allotted for the state are not up for reelection at the same time. However, this year is unusual for Georgia as Senator David Perdue, a Republican, is up for a regular reelection race. At the same time, Senator Kelly Loeffler, another Republican, faces a special election to serve the remainder of Senator Johnny Isakson’s term until 2022, who retired due to health issues. She 

Meanwhile, both of their race went to a runoff because neither of them nor their challengers earned at least 50% of the vote. 

How are runoff elections different than elections on Election Day?

Runoff elections do not feature presidential candidates on the ballot. And for this reason, it is traditionally more challenging for candidates to convince voters to turn out for the election. 

This year’s runoff election is scheduled shortly after New Year, and the country is still in the middle of the pandemic. 

In the past years, Democrats have struggled to win such races, with Republicans mainly ruling Georgia’s format. However, candidates from both parties are expected to pour ample resources to convince their voters. Plus, since no other political race is happening around the country, the national attention will be focused on Georgia. 

In this special election, the stakes will be high. After the election this week, Republicans and Democrats were tied to 48 – 48. Although Senate races in North Carolina and Alaska are yet to be called, Republicans will more likely win in those states.

If this happens, the Republicans will be in control of 50 seats, and if the party leads in those states hold, the Democrats have to capture both of the seats in Georgia to ensure a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Then, Vice President-elect could cast tie-breaking votes and carry out the Democratic agenda. However, if Democrats lose one seat, Republicans will maintain their majority. 

In a speech in Georgia, Vice President Mike Pence said, “The Republican Senate majority could be the last line of defense for all that we’ve done to defend this nation, revive our economy, and preserve the God-given liberties that we hold dear.”