In many ways, this year’s Georgia Senate runoff is very similar to the last one.
Once again, Georgia is holding a runoff after neither Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) nor his opponent, former soccer player Herschel Walker, got more than 50 percent in November’s general election. The stakes are high, if not quite as high as in 2021: Democrats have already won 50 seats and retained the Senate majority, but winning another seat could increase their power on various committees and insure themselves against potential losses in 2024.
However, there are some notable differences. Due to a new state election law that came into force last year, there are significant changes in the logistics of the election and the voters. These updates could ultimately impact turnout and decrease the time people have for early voting and absentee ballots.
Here’s what you need to know about the implications of the new electoral law, the stakes in the runoff elections and the current state of affairs between the two candidates.
When is the Georgia runoff?
Runoff runs will take place on Tuesday December 6th and results could be available within a day or two depending on how close it is. Last November, Georgia announced the results of the Senate election a day after the general election. The state has sped up mail-in ballot processing compared to 2020, a change that could help produce earlier results compared to previous elections.
Early voting also gives voters a chance to get involved before December 6: it will be available in all counties between November 28 and December 2, and was already available on November 22 in a handful of counties. The Georgia Secretary of State’s website provides information on when each county begins early voting and where voters can go.
Eligible voters can also vote by post in the run-off election. To do this, they must submit an application for postal voting to their district election office by Monday, November 28th. Voters can submit these applications online, by email, mail, fax or in person. They must then mail or drop off those ballots to be received at their county election office by 7 p.m. on December 6, the day of the runoff.
The timing of this year’s election marks a change from what was done in 2021, when there were nine weeks between the general election and the runoff. It’s just four weeks this year, the result of a new law signed in 2021 that governs how the state holds elections. There were three weeks of early voting in 2021, compared to the week or less that many counties will have in 2022.
This change could impact voter turnout, particularly among Democrats who are more likely to use early voting and mail-in options, the Associated Press reports. “For voters who are registered and want to vote, the biggest effect will be the reduced number of early voting opportunities and the limited time frame for absentee ballots,” Lori Ringhand, law professor at the University of Georgia, told Vox.
Who can vote?
In 2022, only voters who were already registered before the federal election can vote.
This is another difference compared to 2021, when new people could specifically register for the runoff election. This year, after the deadline for general elections, more than 75,000 new voters registered to vote in time for the runoff.
The new election law, SB 202, stipulates that voters must register at least 30 days before an election in order to vote. Between that and the shortened window of time between the two races, those who have not yet registered will not have time to do so before the runoff.
However, people who are already registered can also take part in the run-off election if they did not vote in the federal election.
Where is the race now?
The race between Warnock and Walker is expected to be close. (It’s the only statewide race in the runoff, although some counties might have other local-level races.)
Warnock came out on top in the general election and could have it again in the runoff too, although both face the challenge of getting their constituents to vote for the second time in less than a month.
In the general election, Warnock secured 49.4 percent of the vote, Walker 48.5 percent and Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver 2.1 percent. An AARP poll conducted in mid-November, one of the few conducted after the general election, put Warnock four points ahead of likely voters.
However, those leads are still scarce, and each candidate still has different factors in their favour.
Warnock, a sitting senator with solid approval ratings in the state, has benefited from a spate of scandals that Walker has faced, including allegations of domestic violence and claims that he paid for two women to have abortions. (Walker has denied that he paid for the abortions.)
University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock also suggested that Republicans could see a drop in turnout because Governor Brian Kemp, who won most Republicans and many independents, would no longer be at the top of the list.
Walker, meanwhile, is a well-known soccer star in the state and is likely to get a boost from Georgia’s Republican lean and backlash against the Biden administration over issues like inflation.
What are the special challenges of a runoff election?
Usually, the biggest challenge in a runoff is getting voters to vote a second time.
“Both sides risk severe attrition of their constituents in November, and the side that best reminds voters to get back to the polls will likely be the one that wins,” Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, told Vox .
Bullock said Georgia has seen a 10 percent to 40 percent drop in voter turnout in past runoffs. The 2021 election was a best-case scenario: about 10 percent fewer voters turned out compared to this year’s general election.
Prior to 2021, runoff elections had favored Republicans because they were able to turn away more of their constituents, according to FiveThirtyEight. However, that dynamic changed this year as Democrats saw gains in their voters.
This year it is still unclear which party will be more successful, although both have invested heavily in the election. According to NBC News, Democrats have outspent Republicans on advertising so far, adding $17 million to the GOP’s $5 million.
Organizers, including the New Georgia Project Action Fund, also campaigned extensively on the ground, with more than 400 recruiters using everything from text and phone banking to more traditional door knocking to reach voters.
“It’s really a campaign game at this point. We focus on voter education. We’ve been knocking on people’s doors since March, so they’re very familiar with us,” said James Mays, a field manager at the New Georgia Project Action Fund.
What is at stake in this election?
Unlike 2020, Senate control is not up for grabs as Democrats have already won the majority.
That doesn’t mean that this choice isn’t still extremely important. As Vox’s Ellen Ioanes explained, the stakes are high if the Democrats can snag a 51st seat:
If Warnock retains his seat, Democrats won’t have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a decisive vote, and they would have more leverage over Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), the party’s more conservative members, to vote to pass laws.
With 51 votes, Democrats would have a solid majority in congressional committees, which are currently split down the middle. That would give them the power to confirm nominee judges more quickly and quickly approve measures that might be controversial. Any gains Democrats make this cycle could also help mitigate potential losses they could face in 2024 when the Senate card will be much less favorable to the party.
In addition to the balance of power in the Senate, organizers also note that this election sends a message about the values and issues that Georgia stands for. For example, Walker recently used an anti-trans ad describing how trans athletes should be banned from sports competitions to justify his candidacy.
“What we’re asking people to say, to make a choice about what kind of Georgia they want to live in, what kind of representation they want in the Senate, and what direction they want the United States to go,” says Keron Blair, the director of field service and organization at the New Georgia Project Action Fund.