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Explained: Why Georgia’s runoff elections are make-or-break for Biden administration and Democrats

The state’s two senate races are also now likely to head to a runoff election in January, which could ultimately determine the balance of power between the Republicans and Democrats in the US’ Senate.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 12, 2020 9:51:43 am
US Senate, US election results, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Joe Biden US president, Democrats and republicans, express explained, explained globalPresident-elect Joe Biden joins Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on stage Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

In a stunning turn of events three days after the US Election Day, Joe Biden pulled ahead of President Donald Trump in the otherwise reliably Republican state of Georgia with a razor-thin lead of less than a full percentage point. But this is not the only unprecedented political situation that the state is witnessing at the moment.

The state’s two senate races are also now likely to head to a runoff election in January, which could ultimately determine the balance of power between the Republicans and Democrats in the US’ Senate.

Incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue and his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff are set to face off once again on January 5 in a runoff election for Purdue’s seat. It also became apparent earlier this week, that Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Kelly Loeffler are heading to another January runoff for the remaining senate seat in Georgia.

What is a runoff election?

State officials call for a runoff election when no candidate in the first election is able to secure a majority of votes required under Georgia law to avoid a rematch of votes. In this case, the two candidates with the most votes qualify for a second election, where they go head-to-head once again to try and clinch the minimum vote share mandated by the state to be declared the victor of the race.

According to the US’ constitution, each of the countries’ 50 states has its own election system and thus has the freedom to decide what that minimum share of votes is. In several states, including Georgia, candidates are required to get a minimum of 50 per cent of the total votes. Some states ask only for 40 per cent, and others do not have the option of runoff elections at all.

In the states that do allow for a second election — this sort of two-round system can take place both during primary and general elections to ultimately choose a winner. A runoff election uses a shortened ballot that only carries the names of the two candidates who are facing off for the second time. The hope is that with fewer options it will be easier to establish a majority. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Generally, each state also has its own timeline. In some states a runoff election is held just two weeks after the first election. In others, it could be held nine weeks later. Georgia has decided to conduct the second election on January 5.

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Why has the need for a runoff election arisen in Georgia?

Georgia is set to conduct two runoffs next year, for both the state’s senate seats, after all four candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties fell short of the 50 per cent-plus-one vote threshold mandated in the state.

It is unusual for a state to hold two senate races at once but it is happening this year as the seat for Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired last year, has to be filled again.

Republican Senator David Perdue, who was up for re-election, got 49.8 per cent of the vote, while his Democratic contender and investigative documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff secured 47 per cent. The vote share of third-party candidate Shane Hazel of the Libertarian Party ensured that neither Perdue nor Ossoff could establish a clear majority.

The state’s other senator Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed in 2019 to succeed Isakson after he retired. She was running against 21 candidates, none of whom were able to garner enough votes to win the race. Democrat Raphael Warnock received the greatest share of the vote (32.7 per cent), with Loeffler placing second (26 per cent). The winner of this runoff will only serve two years, which is the remainder of Ossoff’s six-year term.

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What is at stake here for President-elect Joe Biden?

The two runoff elections here could potentially determine which party will hold power in the US’ Senate for the next two years. As of now, Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats have gained one new seat, but need two more for a perfect 50-50 balance of power.

With Republicans predicted to win in senate races in historically red North Carolina and Alaska, Democrats are heavily relying on Georgia as the only path left for them to gain a majority before the senate reconvenes next year.

If the Democrats manage to win the Georgia seats, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as a tie-breaker. That would mean, her’s would be the deciding vote in the Senate. This would increase their chances of passing legislations and also approving major appointments.

But if the Democrats lose the seats in Georgia, the Republicans will have control over the house. In this case, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican leader from Kentucky, could block Biden from enacting his plans and goals. The promises that he made while campaigning — greater financial aid, unemployment insurance during Covid-19, combating climate change — will then become very difficult to follow through with.

During this year’s senate elections, Democrats picked up seats in Arizona and Colorado but lost a seat in Alabama. The Democratic Party is, however, predicted to keep its majority in the US House of Representatives, but by a slim margin.

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