Georgia’s Senate race is headed for a runoff, a high-stakes contest with only two candidates on the ballot.
Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, whose election contest has been described as one of the most contested in the nation, ended in a near-death battle as both candidates narrowly exited the cast, while Libertarian Chase Oliver captured the final. 2%. However, since no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, according to , the top two vote-getters in Warnock and Walker will go head-to-head in an election scheduled for December 6.
“There will be a runoff,” Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said flatly at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in the state capital. “I’m asking voters to come out and vote one last time.”
Because control of the upper chamber of Congress may hinge on who wins this Senate race, many Georgia residents are already preparing to once again become the center of the political universe.
In most states, election winners are determined by plurality, or whichever candidate receives the most votes wins. But states including Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas have some form of runoffs in their primary races with different boundaries. Georgia is the only state to have general election runoffs.
In fact, it’s the third time in modern times that partial control in Washington could go to Georgia.
In January 2021, two Senate candidates, Warnock and Jon Ossoff, in two Georgia runoffs that gave Democrats a 50-50 majority in the Senate and thus control of Congress. And in 2008, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss beat his Democratic opponent to deny Democrats a Senate seat under President-elect Barack Obama.
This second round of elections, however, will be different from the last two, as the run-off time was reduced from nine to four weeks with the passage of the far-reaching and controversial electoral law. And, in a Senate race that has already set one , it is expected to spend further on more television ads and a statewide search in the coming weeks.
“Georgia knows how to win a runoff: strong organizing and field operations in every region of the state,” Hillary Holley, the executive director of Care in Action, a progressive grassroots organization, said in a statement provided to Yahoo News.
However, the fallout is generally draining for all involved. For campaign teams that often work long hours for two years, it sends the final sprint into overdrive. Voter fatigue is also starting to set in, and runoffs are costly for state boards of elections who have to bear the brunt of a grueling process.
Voters in these elections are also typically older, whiter, and more conservative as runoffs generally have lower turnout than general and primary races. But they also have a way to restart a match.
“You have to try to maintain the momentum you have built up during the campaign. But you also have to renew your resources and be ready to go back to the voters,” he told . “It’s less about all the work you’ve done with the really connected shareholders who are paying close attention. … It’s more about the involvement of the electorate that in most cases he thought, ‘Hey, I thought this thing was over.’
This confusion is not accidental.
Experts say the runoff election is one of several tools Georgia politicians have created to reduce the power of black voters. Georgia for decades had given votes by county, rather than the popular vote, as a way to give rural, mostly white voters an edge over the growing metropolitan areas of a more diverse electorate. Georgia created the system when the county voting system was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
Although Georgia had a large black population, white voters were the majority and could more easily rally in a one-on-one fight against civil rights politicians. At the time, the Democratic Party consisted of conservative segregationists who dominated elections throughout the South. Other tools were also used to suppress newly freed black voters, including racial and literacy tests at the ballot box.
Runoff elections “go back to a time when there was only one party in politics,” Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, told . “Back when the South was one-party Democratic, the runoff was often the deciding election. So you often had more people participating in the second round than in the original qualifier.”
Over the years, many Black leaders have characterized the runoff election as discriminatory, as many Black candidates won outright in the primary only to lose in the runoff. In 1990, the abolition of runoff elections, when John Dunne, then Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, said the runoff system was “an electoral steroid for white candidates.” This lawsuit was unsuccessful.
The 2022 runoff, ironically, will be an exception to this story. If either Walker or Warnock wins the Dec. 6 race, Georgia’s next U.S. senator will be a black man.
Cover Thumbnail Photo Illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Brynn Anderson/AP, John Bazemore/AP