Understanding The Georgia Senate Races

georgia senate races

Georgia, unlike most states, requires their senators receive a majority of votes rather than a simple plurality. This means that the winner must receive more than half of the votes cast in their election in order to win.

If no candidate gets half of the vote, then the two candidates receiving the largest number of votes participate in a runoff to decide who occupies the seat in the Senate. 

This election cycle, the runoff is scheduled to take place on January 5, 2021.

What Is A Runoff Election?


A “Runoff” or “Runoff Election” is a subsequent vote held between candidates for public office which follows a prior election where the field of candidates has been narrowed based upon popularity.

Most runoffs, and indeed the Georgia runoff, has been triggered by the failure of any candidate to receive a majority of votes. Runoffs are held typically as a means to ensure the electorate has an opportunity to choose their preference between the candidates proving most popular in the initial vote.

Runoffs in general are considered to be superior than simple “first-past-the-post” elections, where a simple plurality results in victory. In most places, whomever gets the most votes wins, regardless of whether it is 90% of the votes or 10%. Runoffs require the candidate to win endorsement from at least half of the voters before achieving office – allowing voters to more freely vote their conscience in an initial election, then decide between the two most popular in the subsequent runoff. 

Many social choice scholars consider runoffs and the related instant runoff voting to be superior in translating public opinion regarding candidates versus “first-past-the-post”.

The Facts About The 2020 Election For Georgia’s Two Senate Seats

georgia senate races

There will be two runoff elections this year due to the resignation of Georgia Senator Isakson, resulting in the special election held simultaneously to the other Senate race. 

Given there was no primary, the Georgia Senatorial special election is open and featured over a dozen candidates, including many Republicans, Democrats, and third party candidates. 

The regularly scheduled Senate race was held between three candidates – a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian party candidate. 

The election in January will be held for two Georgia Senate seats, the special election to replace Isakson’s seat, between Republican Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock and the regular election to decide between Republican Incumbent David Perdue and Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff.

Key Dates For Georgia Runoff

November 18

Absentee ballots begin being distributed.

December 7

Deadline to register.

December 14

Early in-person voting begins.

January 5th

Election runoff.

If you will be 18 years old by election day, you may register and participate in the January runoff. 

The November Results and Insight Into The January Runoff

georgia state capital
SOURCE: Expedia

Due to the coordination of the resignation of Senator Isakson and the already scheduled senatorial race for Georgia’s other senate seat, two elections for the U.S. Senate were held in Georgia this November. 

In 2020, the Republican Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, appointed Kelly Loeffler in early 2020 to fill Senator Isakson’s vacant seat. Election day, Loeffler was defending her appointment against Democrat Raphael Warnock, Republican Doug Collins, and several other Democrats, Republicans, and third party candidates.

The results of the November 3 election failed to result in any candidate receiving a majority of the votes, therefore, per Georgia law, a runoff election will occur in January. The runoff will be held and feature the two most popular candidates, Democrat Rapheal Warnock and Kelly Loeffler. 

This November election resulted in Raphael Warnock securing over 30% of the vote, Loeffler exceeded 25%, and Collins totalling around 20% of the vote. To further break-down the results, Democratic candidates received over 48% of the vote through 8 candidates. Republican candidates received over 48% as well with 6 candidates.

With 99% of the votes counted, it looks like Democrats will have a slight edge of several thousand votes, but the big questions will be whether or not all of the voters that chose other major party candidates will coalesce around the same party’s candidate in the runoff, who the third party voters will gravitate toward with the field reduced to just a Republican and a Democrat, and who will and who will not show up on January 5, 2021.

Ultimately, who shows up in Georgia for this special election will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

The other Senate race in Georgia was between Republican David Perdue, Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel. In this race, Republican David Perdue just barely failed to exceed the 50% majority required to avoid a runoff election. Perdue received around 49.8% of Georgia votes cast, Osoff received 47.9%, and Hazel received 2.3%.

Looking at this election gives a very different view of the likelihood of the Georgia Senate race going to Democrats. Though Osoff is not far behind Perdue, virtually all of the voters that chose Shane Hazel, a far-right and self-proclaimed “radical” candidate, will vote for Perdue in the January runoff. Another fact regarding the Georgia Senate seat is paralleled in prior Senatorial elections where a Democrat won the electoral votes but the Democratic Senatorial candidate loses because of depressed turnout in the runoff – turnout which greatly favors Republicans historically. 

The senate is likely to remain in the hands of Republicans for these reasons, although there will be greater pressure than ever before to vote in this January runoff – while the nation watches and out-of-state donors clamor to the state’s race with hopes of influencing the outcome in Washington. 

Without Trump’s voter turnout bump, there is a chance that Democrats can turnout enough voters to flip these seats – and more than likely, how one goes, so goes the other. Either the Senate will be 52-48 or 50-50, depending on the outcome of this runoff election. That fact will influence turnout. The big question will be whether it motivates Democrats to gain the Senate, or galvanizes Republicans to avoid the same scenario.

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