Both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats are heading to a runoff on Jan. 5 following the results of the 2020 general election, in which  no candidate in any race received greater than 50% of the vote. The results of the runoff election are critical to the Democratic Party, which currently holds 48 seats to the Republican Party’s 50 seats in the Senate. Democrats will need to flip both seats if President-elect Joe Biden is to preside over a unified government where Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

With a Republican-majority Senate likely to obstruct any of Biden’s legislative priorities, Georgia has become the center of the American political universe as the Dec. 7 voter registration deadline draws near. Given that Georgia voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 28 years, by less than half a percentage point, every vote will matter.

Who is running in this election?

Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is seeking a second term and is facing Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, who unsuccessfully ran for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in 2017.

Also seeking reelection is incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who was appointed to her seat in December 2019. She is running against Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock.

Both incumbent senators are strong supporters of President Donald Trump, and both are strongly anti-abortion. Loeffler has also spoken out against the Black Lives Matter movement, and Perdue strongly opposed rejoining the Paris climate agreement, an international agreement by 195 countries to limit climate change. 

Loeffler and Perdue were embroiled in controversy in January when they sold millions of dollars worth of stock the day after they received a classified briefing on the state of COVID-19, a decision many outside observers see as unethical and illegal. Both insist they had no hand in managing their portfolios.

Ossoff attracted national attention in early 2017 when he made an unsuccessful bid for Georgia’s 6th Congressional seat in one of the most expensive House races ever. Despite losing the seat, he helped create momentum that led to Democrat Lucy McBath flipping the seat in the 2018 midterms. 

Warnock, reverend at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, emerged at the top of a crowded open race in November despite never holding public office. Both Warnock and Ossoff are strong supporters of abortion rights, criminal justice reform and the fight against climate change, and both have been endorsed by former President Barack Obama and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

Who can vote in this election?

Emory students currently living in Georgia, regardless of where they previously registered, are eligible to register to vote in the runoff. Emory students who are currently registered in Georgia, regardless of where they are currently living, are eligible to vote in the runoff. 

“This federal runoff is considered a new election,” Emory Votes Initiative (EVI) Assistant Coordinator Sarah Zaslaw wrote in an email to the Wheel. “It is not double voting if someone [residing in Georgia] voted elsewhere in November and now registers in Georgia before this runoff.”

Students who satisfy these requirements and will turn 18 by Jan. 5 are also eligible to vote.

Zaslaw acknowledged student confusion in the face of warnings from the Georgia Secretary of State that moving to the state for the purpose of voting in the runoff is illegal but emphasized that college students are in a unique legal position.

“College students are a special group known to have two plausible residences for purposes of voting, and they get to choose which one to use,” Zaslaw wrote. “They are not in the same category as out-of-state adults who might contemplate moving to Georgia right now for the express purpose of registering to vote.”

Tamara Serwer Caldas, a pro bono partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, wrote in an email to the Wheel that displaced students who are graduating this year are not eligible.

“Residency is determined by several factors, including whether the voter has moved out of the jurisdiction and has no plans to return,” Caldas wrote. “If that is the case, they should not vote in the January 5th runoff in Georgia.”

Zaslaw wrote while she was only able to share her “good-faith understanding from multiple sources,” EVI consulted Emory Associate General Counsel Melinda Simon in making recommendations. Simon declined to comment.

Voters line up at the DeKalb County Elections Office to cast their ballot on the first day of early voting for the Nov. 3 election. / Isaiah Poritz, Executive Editor

How do I register to vote? 

The deadline to register for the runoff is Dec. 7. However, Zaslaw urged students to “get started immediately,” especially if students plan to vote absentee.

“It’s a question of [U.S. Postal Service] and time and math, not law,” Zaslaw wrote.

The EVI website provides registration resources, including a link to Emory’s TurboVote portal, which provides step-by-step guidance. To check registration status, use TurboVote or Georgia’s My Voter Page. If you moved within Georgia more than 30 days prior to the Jan. 5 primary, you need to register in your new county by Dec. 7. 

Students with a Georgia driver’s license or identification card can register to vote online through the Georgia Secretary of State’s website

You can also mail, scan or email the paper voter registration application to your specific county registrar. Zaslaw recommended emailing to speed up the process. The form requires your social security number and Georgia address.

Students living on the Atlanta campus should use the Georgia address: 1762 Clifton Road MSC # Druid Hills, GA 30329. MSC numbers are located on students’ MyHousing portal.

Oxford campus students should list the address of their specific dorm followed by their room number. For example, a student living in Fleming Hall would list: 702 Haygood St. Rm. # Oxford, GA 30054.

How do I vote? 

You can vote in the runoff either by absentee or in person. 

Early in-person voting runs from Dec. 14 to 31. For early voting, you can vote at any voting center within your county, searchable on the Secretary of State’s website. If you plan to vote on Election Day, Jan. 5, find your polling place on Georgia’s My Voter Page.

Anyone eligible to vote in the runoff may vote absentee. As the Jan. 5 Election Day falls during Emory’s winter break, many Emory students should start the absentee voting process as soon as possible.

To vote absentee, you must request a mail-in ballot after registering to vote — your county registrar will not mail one to you unless you request a ballot specifically for the runoff. EVI walks students through the process, and the Secretary of State provides an absentee voting guide.

If you have a Georgia license or identification card, you can request your ballot via the online portal. Otherwise, you will need to fill out an absentee ballot request form. Select counties, including DeKalb and Newton, accept absentee requests by email or fax. Otherwise, mail your completed form to your county registrar or deliver it to the office in person. 

Voters should request absentee ballots as soon as possible; the state has already begun mailing them. 

Once you have received and filled out your ballot, mail it to the country registrar or return it to your county registrar’s drop box. If you mail your ballot, do so at least a week before Jan. 5 to allow sufficient delivery time.

You can track both your ballot request and your ballot on your My Voter Page.