On Election Day in Georgia, neither incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock nor candidate Hershel Walker received a majority, or 50%, of the votes. Under Georgia election laws, the winner of the senate seat will be determined by a runoff election on Dec. 6, 2022.
A runoff election occurs when no candidate in a race gains a majority of the votes. The lack of a majority can be because there are many candidates in one race, or as little as three candidates. The two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the runoff election. The runoff is an entirely new election, held weeks after the first and requires voters to cast new ballots for one of the two remaining candidates.
Two states, Georgia and Louisiana, hold runoffs after general elections if one candidate does not receive at least 50% of the vote. In Georgia, the runoff rule applies to congressional, state executive (such as governor and secretary of state), and state legislative elections.
In Louisiana, the rule applies to all candidates, including local offices. Louisiana also uses a unique voting system in which instead of holding traditional primaries a few months before November, all candidates appear on the ballot on Election Day. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote at that time, the top two candidates advance to a runoff.
Runoffs are also used in nine other states to decide the outcome of primary elections. Eight states require runoffs for all primaries where one candidate does not receive a majority of votes. In South Dakota, runoffs are only required in congressional and gubernatorial primary elections. In Vermont, runoffs are used in primaries where the vote is tied.
Georgia instituted runoff elections in 1964 and Louisiana in 1975. Runoff elections are more common in Louisiana because without primaries, more candidates can appear on general election ballots. In Georgia, where primaries are held to determine each party’s candidate prior to Election Day, runoffs are historically less common in comparison. But in recent years, more Georgia elections went to runoffs.
In the past 30 years, there have been nine runoffs for federal offices in Georgia. Five of those runoffs occurred within the past five years. In 2021, there were two federal runoffs for the first time in state history, both for US Senate seats.
Georgia passed a law in March 2021 that changed voting and election rules in the state. The law shortened the time period between the general election and the runoff, decreasing from nine weeks down to four weeks. Due to the shortened timeline, Georgia voters must register to vote before the general election in order to qualify for the runoff election.
The bill also means changes for early voting for the runoff election. Previously, there was a minimum of 16 days of early voting before a runoff election. Under the new bill, the minimum number decreased to five days of early voting. Those voting by absentee ballot also have a shorter window of time to request and return absentee ballots. The deadline to request an absentee ballot was Nov. 25 and the ballot must be returned by 7 P.M. Election Day.
Runoff elections generally receive lower voter turnout than general elections. Turnout rates depend on a variety of factors including offices up for election, competitiveness of the race, and media coverage of the runoff.
In the 2020 election cycle, Georgia had two runoff elections for US Senate. For both of Georgia's runoff elections, turnout dropped by about 6 percentage points between the general and runoff two months later. In 2016, Louisiana had a runoff election for US Senate and turnout dropped by about 39 percentage points between the general and the runoff.
Learn more about voting and elections in the US.
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas, allow for runoff elections in all primaries.
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