Two runoff elections in Georgia taking place in January will ultimately determine which party controls the U.S. Senate for at least the next two years, after no candidate secured a majority of the vote for either Senate seat on Nov. 3.
These two elections will decide whether the Republicans will maintain control of the U.S. Senate, giving them the power to obstruct legislation under a Joe Biden administration, or whether the chamber will swing to the Democrats.
At the time of the November election, Republicans held a 53-47 majority over Democrats in the Senate. Two other Senate races in North Carolina and Alaska were also too close to immediately call, but Republicans were leading in both and expected to win. These wins would put Republicans two seats above the 48 seats grasped by Democrats, who only managed a net gain of one seat.
If Democrats receive two more seats, such as the ones in Georgia, there would be a 50-50 split. This balance would effectively give Democrats control of the chamber, thanks to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ ability to cast a tie-breaking vote as the new vice president, so long as there’s a party-line vote.
Here’s what you need to know about these crucial contests:
What is a runoff election?
A runoff is essentially a rematch. In Georgia, a runoff is declared when none of the candidates meet the criteria for winning. Georgia law requires that a candidate receive at least 50% of the vote in order to be declared a winner.
Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock secured roughly 33% of votes in Georgia’s Nov. 3 election against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who secured 26% of the vote. Incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R) secured just under 50% of votes against Jon Ossoff (D), who won roughly 48%.
When are the runoffs?
Jan. 5, 2021
When is the deadline to register to vote in the runoffs?
Dec. 7 is the last day for Georgia residents to register to vote, if they’re not already. Prospective voters can register through the Georgia Secretary of State’s office either online or by mail.
Those who will be 18 years old by Jan. 5 are able to register now and vote on that day under Georgia law.
Which candidates are running, and who are they?
Raphael Warnock is a Black senior pastor from the same Atlanta church where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Warnock has been politically active for several years. He was arrested in 2014 and 2017 during political protests in Washington over Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and over budget cuts to social services, respectively. He has earned endorsements from former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter as well as multiple Democratic senators, including now-Vice President-elect Harris. If elected, Warnock would be the first Black senator from Georgia.
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler has been a senator for Georgia since December 2019, when she was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp after Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons. Loeffler is a former Wall Street executive, co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump. She has faced scrutiny for dumping of hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock shortly after Congress began receiving regular briefings about the coronavirus outbreak, as well as for embracing an endorsement from now Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for QAnon’s fringe theories.
Jon Ossoff is an investigative journalist, a former congressional staffer and a rising Democratic star who raised more than $21 million during the last three months of the campaign ― the largest quarterly fundraising figure for a Senate race in Georgia history. He has criticized his competitor for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and for purchasing stock in a company that produces personal protective equipment shortly after lawmakers received the first warnings about the coronavirus.
Republican Sen. David Perdue is a former business CEO who was first elected to the Senate in 2014. Like Loeffler, he is a Trump supporter. In October, he faced backlash for taking a racist jab at the pronunciation of Harris’ first name while warming up the crowds at a Trump rally, and he was accused of running an anti-Semitic attack ad against his opponent. He has defended his stock purchases as legal.
How can you vote?
Georgians can vote by absentee ballot, through early voting or in person on Jan. 5.
An absentee ballot can be requested through the voter’s local election commission. Once these requests are received, the ballots will be mailed out starting Nov. 18.
Early in-person voting will begin on Dec. 14.