Election results in Georgia are so tight that not even a full percentage of a point separates the lead between US President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. But the presidential race isn’t the only highly anticipated result the US is waiting on: Both senate seats in Georgia are up for grabs, and with the balance of power in the Senate precariously situated at a near-tie, these results could mean the difference between a Republican or Democratic Senate majority (or an even split) for at least the next two years.
At the time of publication, in Georgia, about 200,000 uncounted ballots remain uncounted, with the race between Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff remaining incredibly close. So far, Perdue shows an ever so slight lead, despite facing criticism a few weeks ago after appearing to purposely mispronounce and mock Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump campaign rally. But, there's a considerable number of uncounted ballots from the Atlanta metropolitan area, which some suspect will show a surge of support for Ossoff. And if Perdue's share of votes dips below 50%, that will result in an automatic runoff, even if he still leads over Ossoff.
While it's unclear whether or not Perdue or Ossoff will win outright, Georgia's other Senate race — between Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock — which was a special election contest, because Loeffler was appointed to the seat in January, is quickly advancing to a January runoff. Although Warnock holds a slight lead over Loeffler, it’s not enough for election experts to make any confident claims as to who will ultimately fill the seat.
Loeffler faced competition from many other candidates — including fellow Republican and Trump ally, Congressman Doug Collins, a staunch Trump ally — but her main competition was Warnock, who leads Loeffler, reports USA Today, but doesn't have enough votes to prevent a January runoff.
For those of you wondering what exactly a runoff election will look like amid the absolute dumpster fire that is the current presidential election process, we've broken down all of the key details here.
What is a runoff election?
A runoff election is like a second election, but it's held specifically when none of the candidates in the first round meet the victory requirements. In some states, like Georgia and nine others, candidates must get a minimum of 50 percent of the votes. When neither candidate is able to secure a majority, the law mandates that the top two candidates must advance to a runoff. So in this case, that is Warnock and Loeffler.
This is a second election that can be held in both primary and general elections in order to determine a winner. A runoff election uses an abbreviated ballot with just the names of candidates in the runoff for voters to choose from in the hopes that, when presented with fewer options, a majority can be established.
When do runoff elections occur?
Each state that has runoff voting has a different timeline for when they hold the second election. For some states, the runoff election is held two weeks following the first election. Other states wait up to nine weeks. For Georgia, this puts off the runoff election to January 2021.
Are runoff elections different in each state?
The short answer is yes. It varies by state and also the type of election. Some states adhere to a 50 percent or more rule for candidates, while others ask only 40 percent, still others do not have runoff elections, instead requiring each party to only put forth one candidate for consideration. This is known as “plurality voting, “winner-take-all,” or “first-past-the-post” and it is the most common form of voting in the United States. In this system, voters select one candidate per race and whoever has the most votes wins — even if it isn’t technically the majority. There is no widespread mandate requiring elected officials to have a majority vote, just the most votes.
Only 10 states require a candidate to win with a majority of the votes. These states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont. South Dakota only holds runoffs for the offices of U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, and governor, while Vermont only holds runoffs in the event of a tie. Historically, it is more popular in Southern states because of a long history of one-party rule, first by Democrats and now by Republicans. When runoff elections were first implemented in the United States through the first decades of the 20th century, the primary election was really the deciding election. This meant that whoever won the Democratic primary was all but guaranteed to win the general election. By requiring a majority vote, candidates were encouraged to broaden their appeal to more voters. The intent was to reduce the likelihood of electing a candidate who doesn’t ideologically represent most voters, even if the margin is a slim percentage point or two above half.
What are Georgia’s runoff election rules?
In Georgia, local and statewide candidates hold runoff elections on December 1, 2020. For federal candidates and special Senate elections, the top two vote-getters are up for the second election on January 5, 2021. The exact day may vary from year to year, but the time frame remains the same: four weeks for local and statewide, and eight weeks for federal. However, this doesn’t apply to presidential races for which the state does not hold a runoff should a candidate not get the majority of votes since it is already narrowed down to two candidates.