According to Georgia election law, a candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the vote plus one point in order to win. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the two candidates with the most votes face off in a runoff election.
During the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election, two U.S. Senate seats were up for grabs in Georgia. In both races, none of the candidates received 50 percent-plus one of the vote—meaning Georgia will have a runoff election on Jan. 5, 2021. (For more information on where the Georgia Senate candidates stand on the issues, head here.)
In one race, Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler—who finished second in the November election with 25.9 percent of votes—will face Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, the race frontrunner who garnered 32.9 percent of votes. (On Jan. 1 of this year, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tapped Loeffler as his pick to replace Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson after his retirement.)
In the other, Republican incumbent David Perdue—who garnered 49.7 percent of votes earlier this month—will face Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff (48 percent).
The stakes of the Georgia runoff election are enormous—the election will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. With last week’s race calls in favor of Alaska Republican incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan, and North Carolina’s to incumbent Republican Thom Tillis, Republicans now hold 50 Senate seats in—two more than the Democrats’ 48 seats.
Georgia has not sent a Democratic senator to Congress since 1996, but a growing electorate made up of young people and people of color has helped shift the state into battleground status. Now both races are considered to be “competitive,” making it unclear which candidates are likely to prevail.
When is the deadline to register?
The deadline to register for the upcoming runoff election in Georgia is December 7, 2020.
How do I register to vote?
Alternatively, eligible voters can register by mailing a postage-paid voter registration application to the Georgia Secretary of State. However, the application generally takes between two and four weeks to process the application once received. Given the short time between now and the December 7 registration deadline, registering online is the best way to guarantee you can vote in the runoff.
Voters can also go in person to their county or city elections office, and register in person there — while registration won’t be immediately processed, it will certainly be faster this way than mailing it in.
Am I eligible to vote in the Georgia runoff election?
According to the Georgia Secretary of State, in order to register to vote you must:
- Be a citizen of the United States.
- Be a legal resident of the Georgia county you plan to vote in.*
- Be at least 17 and 1/2 years of age to register and 18 to vote.
- Not be serving a sentence or on parole for conviction of a felony.
- Have not been found mentally incompetent by a judge
*If you are a student attending college in Georgia, you are eligible to vote in-state—but you will have to register via a paper form, which you can find here, unless you have a Georgia state ID. This means you need to mail in your registration ASAP—the registration deadline is Dec. 7, and applications may take a couple weeks to process.
Even those who did not vote in the 2020 presidential election are eligible to vote in the run-off election. Notably, this means otherwise eligible voters who were too young to vote during the November 3 election are eligible to vote in the runoff—as long as they turn 18 by Jan. 5 (Election Day).
How do I vote?
There are a few different ways to cast your ballot in Georgia.
1. Vote Early In-Person
One option is to vote early in-person (sometimes called absentee voting in-person or advanced voting). Early in-person voting begins December 14, 2020 for the runoff election. You do not need to provide a reason as to why you are voting early, and voting rights advocates in Georgia are urging everyone to vote early in person or by absentee ballot.
Voters are not assigned a polling place for early in-person voting. Instead, you can vote at any polling place in your county—which can be found here once early voting begins.
As with voting in-person on Election Day, you’ll need to bring a valid ID with you when you vote early in-person.
2. Vote via Absentee Ballot
You can also vote via absentee ballot. You do not need to provide a reason to vote absentee.
After registering to vote, you must fill out and submit an absentee ballot application either online, by fax, by mail or in-person at your County Board of Registrar’s Office. Voting rights advocates urge requests for absentee ballots be made as soon as possible to allow time for the ballot to be received by the voter in time to be filled out and returned to a drop-off location or by mail.
Once you’ve submitted the application, you will receive your absentee ballot in the mail.
After following the instructions and carefully completing your absentee ballot, you can return it by mailing it to your county election office (you must affix the necessary postage) or hand delivering it to a drop-off location in your county. As in the Nov. 3 election, voters are urged to return absentee ballots to a drop-off location or to the county election office, given ongoing delays in mail pick-up and delivery. To find a drop-off location, contact your country registrar.
For those voting from within the U.S., your completed ballot must be received by your county elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, January 5, 2021. Therefore, absentee ballots must be returned as quickly as possible. You can check the status of your returned absentee ballot via the Georgia My Voter Page.
3. Vote on Jan. 5
The last option is to vote in-person on Election Day, January 5, 2021. To do this, locate your assigned polling place online using the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page after registering to vote.
On Election Day, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. As long as you are in line to vote by 7 p.m., you have a legal right to cast your ballot. Georgia has a voter identification requirement for in-person voting, so make sure you bring a valid ID.
If you plan to vote in-person on Election Day, but you’re scheduled to work, Georgia state law does require employers to give employees up to two hours of unpaid leave to vote, unless the polls are open for two consecutive hours before or after your shift.
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