In many ways, this year’s Georgia Senate runoff is very similar to the last.
Georgia is holding a runoff after neither Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) nor his challenger, former football player Herschel Walker, received more than 50 percent of the vote in November’s general election. The stakes are high, if not as high as in 2021: Democrats have already won 50 seats and hold a majority in the Senate, but picking up another seat could boost their power on various committees and protect them from potential losses in 2024.
Although there are some notable differences. Because of a new state election law that went into effect last year, there are major changes to the logistics of the election and who can vote there. These updates could ultimately impact turnout by reducing the amount of time people have to participate in early voting and voting by mail.
Here’s what you need to know about the effects of the new election law, the stakes of the runoffs, and how things currently stand between the two candidates.
When will be the second round of Georgia?
Runoffs will be held on Tuesday, December 6, and results may be available within a day or two, depending on how close it is. Last November, Georgia was able to announce the results of the Senate race a day after the general election. The state has sped up how it processes mail-in ballots compared to 2020, a change that could help get results faster than in past elections.
Early voting will give voters a chance to participate before Dec. 6: It will be available in all states from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, and in several states on Nov. 22. Information is provided on the website of the State Secretary of Georgia. about when each county will open early voting and where voters can go.
Voters can also participate in the second round by mail. For this, they must submit an application for absentee voting to their constituency election commission by Monday, November 28. Voters can submit these applications online, by email, mail, fax, or in person. They will then have to send back or throw away these ballots so that they can be received by their constituency election office by 19.00 on December 6, the day of the second round.
The timing of this year’s election marks a change from how things were done in 2021, with nine weeks between the general election and the runoff. There are only four weeks this year, the result of a new law that controls how the state conducts elections in 2021. There were three weeks of early voting in 2021, compared to a week or less in 2022.
The Associated Press reports that the change could affect voter participation, particularly among Democrats who use early voting and mail-in options. “The biggest impact for registered and planning voters will be fewer early voting opportunities and a limited timeline for absentee voting,” Lori Ringhand, a law professor at the University of Georgia, told Vox.
Who can vote?
In 2022, only voters registered to vote before the general election can do so.
It is also another difference that from 2021 new people can register specifically for the run-off elections. That year, more than 75,000 new voters registered after the deadline for the general election and were in time to vote for runoffs.
The new election law, SB 202, requires voters to register at least 30 days before the election to be eligible to vote. So between that and the shortened window between the two races, those who haven’t registered yet don’t have time to do so before the second round.
Those who are already registered can participate in the second round even if they do not vote in the general election.
Where is the race now?
The race between Warnock and Walker is expected to be close. (It is the only statewide race in the runoff election, although some states may have other races at the local level.)
Warnock had the upper hand in the general election and could regain it in the run-off, although both face the challenge of turning out voters for the second time in less than a month.
In the general election, Warnock got 49.4 percent, Walker got 48.5 percent, and Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver got 2.1 percent. An AARP poll, one of several polls since the mid-November general election, had Warnock four points ahead of likely voters.
However, these leads are still narrow and each candidate has different factors in their favor.
Warnock, an incumbent senator with solid state approval ratings, has benefited from a flood of scandals facing Walker, including allegations of domestic violence and allegations that he paid for abortions for two women. (Walker denied paying for the abortions.)
Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, also theorized that Republicans could see a drop in voter turnout because Gov. Brian Kemp, who won a majority of Republicans and many independents, will no longer be at the top of the ticket.
Walker, meanwhile, is a well-known football star in the state and is likely to draw support from the fact that Georgia can backlash against the Biden administration on issues like Republican thinness and inflation.
What are the unique challenges of the second round?
The biggest problem with the second round is usually that voters go to the polls a second time.
“Both parties risk serious turnout for November voters, and the party that does the best job of reminding voters to get back to the polls will win,” Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, told Vox.
According to Bullock, Georgia has seen a 10-40 percent drop in voter turnout in past runoffs. The 2021 election was the best-case scenario: about 10 percent fewer voters than the general election that year.
Runoffs before 2021 favored Republicans because they were able to turn out more of their voters per FiveThirtyEight. But that dynamic changed that year, with Democrats seeing gains among their voters.
This year, although both have invested heavily in the election, it is still unclear which party will be more successful. Democrats have outspent Republicans on ads so far, spending $17 million to the GOP’s $5 million, according to NBC News.
Organizers, including the New Georgia Project Action Fund, are conducting intensive on-the-ground research with more than 400 canvassers using everything from text and phone banking to more traditional door-knocking to reach voters.
“It’s really a game of activism at this point. We have focused on voter education. We’ve been knocking on people’s doors since March, so they’re very familiar with us,” says James Mays, field director of the New Georgia Project Action Fund.
What interests are there in this election?
Unlike in 2020, control of the Senate is not up for grabs because Democrats already have a majority.
That doesn’t mean these elections aren’t still very important. As Vox’s Ellen Ioanes explains, there’s a lot at stake if Democrats can take the 51st:
If Warnock retains his seat, Democrats won’t have to depend on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote, and they’ll have more leverage over more conservative Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kirsten Sinema (AZ). Party members to pass the law.
With 51 votes, Democrats will have solid majorities in congressional committees, which are currently split down the middle. That would give them the power to approve judicial nominees more quickly and quickly approve potentially controversial measures. Any gains Democrats make this cycle could help offset potential losses they face in 2024, when the Senate map will be less favorable to the party.
Organizers note that in addition to the balance of power in the Senate, this election sends a message about the values and issues that Georgia defends. Recently, for example, Walker tried to promote his candidacy by using an anti-trans ad that explained how trans athletes should be banned from sports.
“We want people to choose 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, a field director and organizer at the New Georgia Project Action Fund.