What Is a Runoff Election and What Does it Mean for Georgia?

Democrat Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock (left) faces off against Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler (right) in one of Georgia's two Senate races.
Democrat Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock (left) faces off against Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler (right) in one of Georgia's two Senate races.Getty Images

Georgia is one of only a few states that advance candidates to a second round of elections if no one candidate receives more than 50% of the votes.

Nearly all the ballots have been counted, yet Georgia voters may have to wait until after the new year to get the full results of their election. No candidate in either of the state’s Senate races have established a clear majority, and due to the Georgia’s runoff system, the state will likely see a second round of Senate elections in January.

The news comes days after Election Day, and voters across the country are becoming more and more anxious for the results.

As of Friday evening, Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was temporarily appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, is trailing with around 26% of the vote, CBS News reported. Democrat Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock leads the vote with nearly 32.9% of the vote, according to CBS News.

The special election came as a result of former Senator Johnny Isakson’s retirement, and the upcoming runoff is projected to be one of the most expensive contests in Georgia’s history, The New York Times reported.

Georgia’s second Senate race sees Republican Senator David Purdue, who was up for reelection this year, leading with 49.8%, according to CBS News. Despite having made gains earlier this week, Purdue has just under 50% of the votes, with 98% of the votes counted as of Friday afternoon, according to a projection by CBS News. Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff has about 47.8% of the vote, CBS News reported.

According to state law, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the race must advance to a runoff election. The result of such an election could, in part, determine whether Democrats regain Senate control.

What Is a Runoff Election?

A runoff election is considered the second round of elections.

While most states vote using the plurality system, or “first-past-the-post,” meaning voters can select one candidate on the ballot and whoever with the most votes win, 10 states, including Georgia, can advance candidates to a runoff election if none of them meet the requirements for victory.

This can occur in both primary and general elections.

What Are the Requirements for Victory in States That Host Runoff Elections?

Not every state hosts runoff elections, and among those that do, it varies as to whether they occur when candidates receive less than 50% of the votes or when candidates receive less than 40% of the votes.

During the runoff election, voters are presented with an abbreviated ballot with the hopes that with less options, one of the top candidates will make it to victory.

When Are Runoff Elections Held?

Each state that has runoff voting has a different timeline for when the second election will occur. It can take place anywhere between two and nine weeks from the first election.

In Georgia, the runoff contest for the two senate races will occur January 5, 2021.

What Is at Stake?

All eyes will be on Georgia as it heads into not one, but two simultaneous runoff elections.

This year, 35 seats in the U.S. Senate were at stake. The Republican party had previously dominated the Senate, with 53 seats, and the Democrats trailed behind with 47. A party must have 51 seats to reach a majority.

The results of Georgia’s runoff could likely help determine which party holds Senate majority. With most of the results having already come in, both parties now sit at 48 seats each.

North Carolina, which has one seat in senate open, still has not called an official winner but as of Friday evening, Republican Thom Tillis is projected to be leading with 48.7% of the votes, according to CBS News. Democrat Cal Cunningham is trailing with 46.9%, according to CBS News. Alaska has also not yet announced a winner, although the state is expected to vote in a Republican senator, CBS News reported.

Therefore, the two seats up for grabs in Georgia could end up determining whether Democrats regain Senate control, or if the Senate will be split down the middle.

The result of the Senate split could also have implications over the next four years – especially if Joe Biden ends up winning the presidency.