With Joe Biden now officially projected to be the new US president, it may seem like voting is over for a while. Well, this is both true and untrue. Most US elections, most notably the presidential one, have been called. However, there is one incredibly important election still to come. It’s happening in Georgia this January, it could be key to the next two years of progressive policy in the US (including climate policy), and you can get involved even if you live elsewhere in America.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is a runoff election?
A runoff election is essentially a second election, held when no candidate in the first round meets the victory requirements. In Georgia, candidates must get a minimum of 50% of the votes to be declared the winner. When no candidate does, the top two advance to a runoff to determine the winner.
In Georgia, runoffs take place nine weeks after the election, this means they’ll take place on January 5th 2021 and citizens have until December 7th 2020 to register to vote for these elections.
Usually, turnout for runoff elections is lower than those involving a presidential race, but this year is set to be different, as two senate seats go to a runoff in the state. The results could prove foundational to the future of American politics, and so a lot of resources and attention is about to head to Georgia for the next few months.
Who is going to runoff in Georgia?
Two Senate seats are officially on the ballot for January, as no candidate reached 50% of the vote. Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Black Democratic candidate, will be looking to unseat Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy white woman. This is a special election for a term until 2022; Loeffler was appointed to the seat after Republican Johnny Isakson retired due to health reasons.
Loeffler has herself seen controversies in her year as Senator. She is married to the CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange and was accused of selling $20 million in stocks after a closed-door Senate briefing on Covid-19 in January. She is also vocally against Black Lives Matter and is a staunch Trump supporter.
Warnock, on the other hand, grew up in public housing in a family with little money. With the help of loans and grants, he went on to earn a PhD before becoming a Reverend, taking on the Senior Pastor position at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former pulpit of Martin Luther King Jr. His platform is focused on affordable healthcare, environmental justice, providing more opportunities to Black farmers, criminal justice reform, equality for marginalised people, defending women’s healthcare, and voting rights.
Simultaneously, Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff will go to runoff on the same day. Perdue initially had more than 50% of votes, but his margin shrunk below 50% as counting continued. Perdue has been considered a key Trump ally, as his cousin is Trump’s Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue. He has also publicly mocked Kamala Harris’ first name and has been accused of running anti-Semitic ads against Ossoff.
Ossoff’s background is in investigative journalism. Since 2013, he has served as the CEO of Insight TWI, a media production company that investigates corruption, organised crime, and war crimes for international news organisations. He has endorsements from former mentor Congressman John Lewis, Congressman Hank Johnson, Georgia State Legislative Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bennett and many other leaders in Georgia. His platform focuses on affordable healthcare and defending social security, clean energy and infrastructure, defending abortion rights, major criminal justice reform, immigration policy that respects human rights (including reforming ICE), gun reform, LGBTQ+ equality, and strengthening HBCUs.
In both cases, it seems clear to me which candidates will work to care for their citizens properly. But these races go beyond life in Georgia.
Why it matters
While Biden is set to win the presidency, control of the Senate is still undecided.
Republicans previously held a 53-to-47 majority in the Senate, but after the election they are now tied 48 – 48 with Democrats. At the time of writing Senate races in Alaska and North Carolina look set for Republican victories. If Democrats take both seats in Georgia, this will secure a 50-50 tie in the Senate. In this case, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could cast tie-breaking votes, allowing Democrats to pass legislation and get things done.
With judicial nominees, a stimulus deal, infrastructure and health care measures, and tax and spending policies all on the line, the Senate races in Georgia are likely to take on an intensity that mirrors the presidential race that just ended.
While Biden and Harris may not be the most progressive candidates themselves, pressure from activists like The Sunrise Movement, alongside politicians such as AOC and Bernie Sanders, has already seen some results. For example, much of Biden’s progressive climate plan came about due to sustained activism from these people. This is a sign that, if activism continues under a Biden administration and politicians are held to account, there’s a likelihood they will listen. If Democrats retake control of the Senate, these policies are then much easier to pass, as Republicans aren’t able to try and change or block plans.
How to get involved
Key facts to know:
- Georgia’s runoff elections will take place on January 5, 2021
- New voters in Georgia have until December 7th to register to vote for the runoffs
- If you will be 18 by January 5th 2021, you are eligible to register
- There will be three weeks of early voting
- Registered voters may vote by mail if they request an absentee ballot
In the past Democratic candidates have struggled in such races, as Republicans have been more likely to turn out to vote (it’s hard to say how much of this is down to voter suppression, however). Now is the time for the hard work to continue, at least for a few more months, to try and give the next administration a fighting chance of passing progressive policy.
If you live anywhere in the US you can: