Georgia election: all you need to know about the Senate runoff races
The Georgia runoff election on 5 January is set to decide if Republicans or Democrats will control the Senate. Who is running and why is it so important?
The dust has barely even settled on the US presidential elections almost two months after voters went to the ballot box, even as Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory has brought little reward for the lame duck president. Nonetheless, residents of Georgia are now being asked to shape America's political landscape for the next four years by determining the base of power in the US Senate in a runoff election.
The election takes place on 5 January but as of Friday a record three million early votes had already been cast. Early voting has now closed, for more information on how to vote on 5 January or to find your polling station see the Georgia Secretary of State website.
What is a runoff election?
In Georgia’s election rules, the winning candidate needs to win 50% of the votes or more, and November’s election nobody achieved that, therefore the top two candidates go head to head in another vote: that’s the “runoff.”
Who are the candidates in the Georgia runoff?
The current Georgia Senators are Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Perdue, 70, is facing stiff competition from Jon Ossoff, 33. Perdue has been a Senator in Georgia since 2015 and has been a loyal and long time supporter of Donald Trump. He is former CEO of sport wear brand Reebok. BBC reports that he is now facing scrutiny over multimillion dollar stock trades in companies whose business falls under his scope on Senate committees. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Perdue is facing an unseating by the Democrat Jon Ossoff, 37 years his junior. Before becoming a documentary filmmaker, Ossoff worked for Atlanta Democrat Congressman Hank Johnson for five years. Ossoff’s 2020 election campaign was endorsed by civil rights activist and leader John Lewis, who died this summer.
Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, 50, came into office following the resignation of the sitting Senator Johnny Isakson resigned. She is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate; as co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, the women’s NBA team. Her ownership has been under scrutiny since her vocal public opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement following widespread civil rights protests this spring.
Challenging Loeffler for the Democrat party is Reverend Raphael Warnock. Warnock is 51 years old and a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr once preached. He co-founded the voter rights organisation the new Georgia Project alongside Stacey Abrams, which was partly responsible for record Democrat turnout in Georgia last year. The group is now under investigation by Georgia's Republican secretary of state for allegedly sending ballot applications to non-residents.
Why is the Georgia runoff so important?
Right now, the Senate Majority Leader is Republican Mitch McConnell, as the GOP have control of the Senate. The upper chamber has specific powers and can make or break votes and bills depending on which party controls it.
For example, the recent bill that passed without incident in the House of Representatives – the lower chamber of Congress - at the end of December, which would increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 hasn’t even been granted an audience in the Senate and that’s down to McConnell and the Republican majority.
The Senate majority in Joe Biden’s first presidential term would determine whether plans to expand abortion access backed by the House and the president-elect would sink or swim. It could also make or break the ambitious plans Biden laid out in his presidential campaign for the environment, healthcare and the economy.
As demonstrated by the Amy Coney-Barrett Supreme Court fiasco in October, whichever party takes the Senate holds the power to confirm or reject Biden's picks for the federal judiciary, a key part of determining national abortion policy as momentum build in state legislatures to attempt the overturning of Roe v. Wade - the 1973 SCOTUS decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
Technically, there are currently 46 Democrats and two independent Senators - Bernie Sanders and Angus King - but they typically vote with Democrats. If Democrats win both Georgia seats, they'll control the chamber with a 50-50 split, decided by incoming vice president-elect Kamala Harris.
There are two Senators for each of the 50 states, regardless of population. The winning Senators in Georgia will represent all 10.62 million inhabitants of the Peach State. In addition, there are 14 districts all with a Representative in the House, nine of which are currently Republicans, the remaining five Democrats.
10,000 new voters in early turnout
Today Reuters reported that Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, whose voter registration efforts helped deliver the state for Biden, told CNN on Sunday that early turnout includes 100,000 new voters who did not cast ballots in November.
“Those 100,000 are disproportionately comprised of people of colour and young voters, who are both more likely to vote for Democrats,” Abrams said.