A Guide on Everything to Know About the Georgia Runoff Election

Jon Ossoff holds a campaign event at Grant Park on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 in Atlanta, GA
Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The battle for two seats will determine whether Republicans remain in the majority or the chamber maintains an even 50-50 split. It's between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Republican Kelly Loeffler, and Democrat Raphael Warnock.

It has already been two months since the contentious November presidential election that ended in a victory for Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden. Despite his win, the battle for control of the Senate is still undecided. The outcome hinges on the southern state of Georgia where two runoff elections have been set for Tuesday. 

The competitive "rematch" has sent Georgians back to the polls where they will determine, in a second and final attempt, which candidate to vote in office. Which two politicians come out as a winner will determine which party leads as the majority in the U.S. Senate –– and, most importantly, how much Biden can get accomplished in his first two years as president.

The outcome will result in two outcomes: either the Senate swings to a Democratic majority or keeps the Republicans in charge.

After elections this week, the senate is tied 48-to-48, The New York Times reported.

In November, the state of Georgia saw over 4 million voters, or a 57.3% turnout, according to the election project. This was a record-breaking election for the state, which saw a record 3.9 million votes in 2008. In a narrow lead, Joe Biden won in Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes. 

As a way to help understand the runoff better, below are some helpful facts to help you stay in the know.

What is a runoff election?

To best compare, think of the runoff election as a rematch. A runoff takes place when neither candidate meets the criteria required to win. According to Georgia law, candidates are required to receive a majority of the vote in order to properly win an election. If neither candidate earns 50%, then the top two candidates who earned the most votes will face off, again, in a runoff election, The New York Times reported.

This law was formed in the 1960s as an attempt to maintain white political power, according to an Interior Department report cited by the Times. Black politicians had a fairer chance of winning in a multicandidate race with a plurality of the vote, but with a runoff law in place, this has made it much more difficult.

How did we get here?

Georgia functions a bit differently compared to other states. If one Senate candidate got 50% of the vote, they would have won the election and a runoff would have been avoided, NPR reported. But because this year was a special election, meaning there was not a primary election, 20 candidates were on a single ballot, resulting in more spread out voting results.

It is also worth mentioning, that Georgia has historically been a contentious state, dubbed by political analysts as a looking glass into U.S. voting behaviors and shifting demographics. Georgia has not had a Democratic Senator since 2000. It also hasn't elected any Democrat to any statewide office since 2006, the Times reported.

Republicans have historically had an advantage during runoffs because Democrats vote less frequently, according to the Times. The last time the Georgia Senate had a runoff was after the 2008 November election. Voter turnout shrunk from 3.7 million to 2.1 million that year.

Who are the candidates?

Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old rookie Democrat, is running against the Republican incumbent, David Perdue who fell behind in November. At age 16, Ossoff wrote a letter to John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader, the Times reported. While at Georgetown University, he worked as a speechwriter on a congressional campaign, and at age 26, he was the chief executive of an England-based documentary film company. Perdue, 71, was first elected in 2014 and then, in November, he received 49.7% of the vote –– just a shade under the majority he would have needed to win reelection.

Ossoff, on the other hand, trailed close behind with 47.9% of the vote. The two candidates were about 88,000 votes apart, according to the Times.

Both Kelly Loeffler, the second Republican incumbent candidate, and her Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock are new to the political arena. Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman who embraces a more conservative platform, was voted into Congress in 2019 after former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson retired due to health concerns.

In November, Loeffler earned only 25.9% of the vote as one of 20 candidates. She has also spoken publicly about her support to overturn the presidential election results. Warnock has similarly never run from public office but was once an advocate for voting rights and is also a senior pastor as Ebenezer Baptist Church, NPR reported. He earned 32.9% of the vote. 

What are the possible outcomes?

The battle for two seats will determine whether Republicans remain in the majority, thus granting the party major influence over Biden's legislative agenda during the first half of his presidency, or whether the chamber maintains an even 50-50 split.

If the runoff results in a split, vice president-elect Kamala Harris would then eventually cast a possible tie-breaking vote, CNN reported. With an even split in the chamber, President-elect Joe Biden would be able to accomplish a lot in his first two years of presidency.

By Wednesday, Congress will certify president-elect Joe Biden's victory. Just on Monday, during the Senate runoff rally in Dalton, Georgia, President Donald Trump promised to "fight like hell" as he continued to make incessant and baseless claims of voter fraud. Amidst his unfounded claims, Trump added that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.

However, this move by Pence would be legally questionable and likely to be rejected by both chambers of Congress, CNN reported.

How much does this all cost?

An estimated $500 million has been spent on advertising in the two months since the election, NPR reported. Republicans have reportedly allocated more than Democrats, spending nearly $271 million compared to $218 million.

When will we learn the results?

The polls close Tuesday night. In the last week before the runoff election, some counties began scanning and processing ballots, but they will not begin counting them until the polls close at 7 p.m. ET.