Runoff in Georgia - What Would It Mean for Democrats?

Michelle_Nunn_black_voters.pngIt’s looking increasingly likely that the much buzzed-about Georgia Senate race will not actually be decided on Election Day. Under Georgia law, the election will go to a runoff if no candidate secures over 50 percent of the vote – a likely scenario if recent polling is any indication. The latest CNN poll found Nunn leading GOP opponent David Perdue by 47 to 44.

Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford, currently polling around 4 percent, is playing a critical role here. She is drawing votes away from David Perdue, and may well prevent either candidate from crossing the 50 percent mark. Which begs the question: how would Michelle Nunn fare in a runoff? With hours until Election Day, here’s a look at the pros and cons facing Democrats in the event of a prolonged election in Georgia.

What we're saying

According to Andy Wong, President of and one of the country's leading experts on engaging voters of color in elections, "it is essential that voters of color come out in significant numbers for Nunn in order to win let alone get into a runoff. If the race goes to runoff election, it will be critical for Democratic leadership to speak directly to voters of color, youth and liberal to moderate white women."

The Upside

A runoff would give Team Nunn a critical tool: more time to turn voters out to the polls. Having an election drag out might not always be a good thing, but in Georgia, it might help Democrats overcome the voter suppression tactics that have arisen in the face of a massive effort to engage new voters. Of the more than 80,000 new voters, many of them young people and of people of color, that have been registered by the New Georgia Project this year, 40,000 names are mysteriously missing from the Secretary of State’s list of eligible voters. A runoff election would give Democrats in Georgia added time to pressure Secretary of State Kemp to make sure these voters are added to the rolls. Plus, if it turns out that control of the Senate all comes down to who wins in Georgia, national attention and do-or-die pressure could bolster Democratic turnout in a runoff election.

The Downside

First of all, votes that went to Libertarian Amanda Swafford in the general election might be distributed mainly to Perdue in a runoff. Plus, the runoff would require voters to mail in ballots by January 6th, challenging both parties to motivate voters amid the competing priorities of the holiday season. Overall, history has not been kind to Georgia Democrats in runoff elections: as the New York Times reported, the past five statewide runoffs have all been won by Republicans. Luckily, there is an unprecedented voter turnout effort underway in Georgia, so history may not be our best model.  


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