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Some Things You Might Want to Know about the Georgia Run-Off Election

Updated: Apr 8

By Heidi Simpson, CSJ Vice-President


As almost everyone knows by now, even though we’re a few days into 2021, the 2020 Senate race is not quite over. On Tuesday, January 5th, registered voters in Georgia will take to the polls, again, to decide who will fill both Senate seats from Georgia.


There are, of course, a variety of issues relating to run off elections and voting in Georgia during a pandemic that everyone should have at least a basic understanding of. That said, because U.S. elections, even those for national office, are largely governed by state law, laws and standards that apply to this election might not apply to other elections in other states.


Georgia is one of many states that requires voters to register in advance for elections. For the run off election, the registration deadline was December 7th, almost one month before the actual election.[1] Voter registration in Georgia is an issue that has received national attention previously with the 2018 gubernatorial election when Stacey Abrams lost narrowly to Brian Kemp, the then Secretary of State (person in charge of administering the election).[2] This election is still regarded as somewhat controversial because, prior to election day, in his role as Secretary of State, Kemp purged many voters from the voter registration rolls, making many people suddenly ineligible to vote.[3]


Unlike many states, including New York, Georgia state law allows for “no excuse” absentee voting, meaning you do not have to give the state a reason when you request your absentee ballot.[4]


Georgia also has relatively strict voter ID and name matching requirements.[5] Both of these requirements make it more difficult for otherwise eligible Georgians to vote in the state, especially people of color and people living in low income communities. This is because these Georgians generally have less ability to acquire the necessary ID and face an increased likelihood of errors in the spelling of their names on official documentation.


With the deck already stacked against many voters, the pandemic adds an additional layer of difficulty. While Georgia does not currently have many Covid-19 restrictions, the pandemic continues to worsen in the state.[6] This means that voters who do venture out to vote in the state face increased risk of exposure to Covid-19 in long voting lines, especially in light of the high turn out so far for this election. By the end of December, an estimated 2.5 million Georgians had already cast their votes, compared to a total of only about 3.2 million votes cast in the general election in November.[7] Despite the volume of early votes so far, Georgia still anticipates a very high voter turnout on election day.[8]


This election is also one of the most expensive elections in the state’s history. Since the general election in November, between the candidates, different PACs, and other outside expenditures, over $500 million has been spent on this election so far.[9] One way to find out a little bit more about each of the candidates and their support (and something I find myself doing before every election) is to look on fec.gov/data to see who the candidates’ contributors and independent supporters are. As an example, in this election cycle, Hard Hats for America spent $25,000 in support of Jon Ossoff, while the God, Guns, Life Pac spent $18,495 in support of Kelly Loeffler. While these specific expenditures are somewhat lower dollar, I do want to emphasize that over $500 Million has been spent in two races between a total of four candidates.


So, what should you expect on January 5th?


First, long lines of in person turnout. Although there has been record early vote turnout, both parties still expect strong turn out on election day.


Second, misinformation and confusion. During the days following the November general election, there were several posts online about probability of voter fraud based on total number of residents or registered voters. Some of these were simply confused in that the authors mistook the population of the Eastern European country, Georgia, for the U.S. state. Others relied on old data to make a claim that the number of votes counted couldn’t possibly be right. Currently, the registered voter statistics posted on the Georgia Secretary of State website are as of November 1, 2020, which is more than a month before the registration cut-off. This means that it is entirely possible that more people can cast votes than are listed by the Secretary of State in a certain county because the data does not reflect the most recent totals of registered voters.


Finally, as with the general election, you should not expect final results on election night. Just like during the general election in Georgia and many other states, the official state policy is to not count absentee ballots until election day. This means that all of the almost 1 million[10] absentee ballots already received will not be opened and recorded until January 5th. Georgia state law mandates that mail in ballots cannot be counted until election day.[11] Each county can decide whether it wants to begin counting mail in ballots before the polls close, but it must notify the Secretary of State’s office at least 7 days before election day if it wants to begin before 7 p.m.[12]


Although Election Day on January 5th has significantly fewer elections and candidates than November 3rd had, expect similar confusion, disinformation and delay in confirmation of results.


Image: https://georgia.gov/voting


[1] https://georgia.gov/vote-2020-runoff-elections [2] https://www.npr.org/2018/11/16/668753230/democrat-stacey-abrams-ends-bid-for-georgia-governor-decrying-suppression [3] https://www.npr.org/2018/11/16/668753230/democrat-stacey-abrams-ends-bid-for-georgia-governor-decrying-suppression [4]https://www.wabe.org/raffensperger-calls-for-end-of-no-excuse-absentee-voting-in-georgia/ (Though the current Secretary of State is advocating for overturning the no excuse law). [5] https://sos.ga.gov/admin/files/GAID_Req_Brochure.pdf [6]See https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report (Official statistics from the Georgia Department of Public Health). [7] https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/30/politics/early-voting-numbers-georgia-runoff/index.html [8] https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/30/politics/early-voting-numbers-georgia-runoff/index.html [9] https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/28/politics/democrats-gop-ad-spending-georgia/index.html [10] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/million-voted-early-georgia-senate-runoff/story?id=75005786 [11] GA Code § 21-2-386(a)(1)(G)(3) (2019). [12] GA Code § 21-2-386(a)(1)(G)(3) (2019).

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