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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Explained: Why the Georgia Senate races matter

Under Georgia's election law, if no candidate in an election is able to secure at least 50 per cent of votes, the top two candidates must go for a re-match to try and win the mandated minimum vote share.

Written by Rahel Philipose , Yashee | New Delhi | Updated: January 6, 2021 8:26:21 am
A worker passes voting signs while setting up a polling location at an elementary school in Gwinnett County, Ga., outside of Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo: Ben Gray)

In an hour-long phone call on Monday, United States President Donald Trump pressured Brad Raffensperger, Secretary of State of the American state of Georgia, to “find” him enough votes to overturn President elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November 3 election. Trump told Raffensperger that he hoped this could be done before the Senate runoff election on Tuesday. Trump was scheduled to campaign in Georgia on Monday night (Tuesday morning in India).

Despite Trump’s continuing attempts to stay on in the White House, the presidential election has long been decided. The still-open races in Georgia are, however, critical – the results will determine the balance of power in the Senate, and could end up deciding the fate of a lot of Biden’s legislative agenda.

Georgia runoffs explained

Both the Senate seats for which elections will be held on Tuesday are currently held by Republicans. Under Georgia’s election law, if no candidate in an election is able to secure at least 50 per cent of votes, the top two candidates must go for a re-match to try and win the mandated minimum vote share. For both seats in the elections held on November 3, no candidate from either party was able to win more than half the votes.

Thus, on January 5, Republican Senator David Perdue will seek re-election against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, while incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler will try to defend her seat against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock.

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Candidates and votes

In the November election, Perdue got 49.8% of the vote, while Ossoff managed 47% — the votes won by Shane Hazel of the Libertarian Party ensured neither Perdue nor Ossoff could establish a clear majority. The winner of this seat will serve a full six-year term in the Senate.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate in 2019. She was chosen by Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp to replace Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired due to health reasons. The winner of this seat will only serve only two years, the remainder of Isakson’s six-year term. In the November, the Democrat Warnock received the biggest share of votes (32.7%), with Loeffler coming second at 26%.

Why the polls matter

Republicans hold 50 of the 100 seats in the US Senate, while the Democrats have 48, including two independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who lean Democratic.

If the Democrats win these two seats, the Senate will see a 50-50 tie, where the deciding vote will be cast by the Vice President, the Democrat Kamala Harris.

The Senate majority is crucial for Joe Biden’s government, which could otherwise see its key appointments, policy decisions and attempts to fulfil campaign promises hobbled by Republicans. The current Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, takes pride in calling himself the “Grim Reaper”, and had strangled several pieces of legislation pushed by the Barack Obama administration.

Majority in Senate

A Senate majority matters in things from cabinet and judiciary appointments to passing laws to controlling the outcome of a presidential impeachment.

“Mitch McConnell will force Joe Biden to negotiate every single cabinet secretary, every single district court judge, every single US attorney with him,” the Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told Politico. “My guess is we’ll have a constitutional crisis pretty immediately.”

Basic duties, such as allocating funds for government projects and paying debts, will become a struggle and the Democrats’ more ambitious proposals — such as a multi-trillion-dollar plan to curb carbon emissions and to create more jobs in the country — would stand little chance in a Republican-majority Senate.

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