Updated Nov 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Georgia's Senate race is heading to a runoff (again). Here's how it will work

Photo illustration of Raphael Warnock tinted blue and Herschel Walker tinted red separated by a white halftone divider.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photos: Paras Griffin and Megan Varner/Getty Images

Georgia's razor-thin Senate election between Republican Herschel Walker and incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is headed to a runoff.

Why it matters: A 51-seat majority for Democrats would bolster their ability to move judicial nominations through the Senate confirmation process — and ease the procedural burden of a 50-50 Senate.

Zoom in: A 50-50 Senate requires a power-sharing agreement, which could amount to slower nominations and bills moving more slowly through the upper chamber.

The big picture: Georgia state law says that candidates must face off in a runoff election if one person does not earn a simple majority — more than 50% of the vote — in the general contest.

  • The two candidates who win the most votes advance to the runoff, which is held four weeks after the general election, per Georgia's new voting law.
  • The candidate who wins the highest number of votes cast in the runoff is the winner of the election.
  • All registered voters can cast their ballots in a runoff election and they must have registered by Nov. 7, so new voters can't join the rolls.

State of play: With an estimated 99% of the vote counted as of Thursday morning, Warnock had 49.4% and Walker had 48.5%, according to Georgia's Secretary of State.

  • Democrats and Republicans are already preparing to spend millions in Georgia to propel their candidates to victory, especially if Senate control hinges on the peach state, Axios' Alexi McCammond and Emma Hurt report.
  • As of mid-October, Warnock's campaign had spent more than double Walker's campaign, at nearly $83 million to the GOP hopeful's nearly $32 million.

Georgia runoff explained

Between the lines: Georgia's new voting law, passed in March 2021, shortened the time between the election and a runoff from nine weeks to four.

  • "The lengthy nine-week runoffs in 2020 were exhausting for candidates, donors, and 120 electors," the bill's authors wrote.
  • Voting rights groups criticized the change, saying it does not give voters adequate time to vote early and receive and cast their mail-in ballots.
  • Georgia is one of two states — the other is Louisiana — that has runoffs in a general election when no candidate receives a majority, per Ballotpedia.
  • Runoff elections have "Jim Crow roots," according to the U.S. Vote Foundation, which says that the practice led to the disenfranchisement of Black voters.

Flashback: Warnock won his seat during a January 2021, special election runoff. Democrat Jon Ossoff also won his runoff election in January 2021.

  • The pair's victory won Democrats their Senate majority.
  • The Georgia Senate elections in 2020 became the most expensive in history, with a combined half a billion dollars spent, according to Open Secrets.

What's next: Voting for the runoff should begin "as soon as possible," but no later than a week before the contest, per the voting law.

Go deeper... Midterm Elections 2022

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional developments.

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