This year, on January 5th, Georgia voters will participate in a runoff election to select their state senators. But why is this race so important, important enough to make national news and urgent enough that celebrities and activist groups around the nation are rallying to make sure as many voters as possible get out to the polls?
What's at Stake?
The Georgia runoffs will determine Georgia's two Senate seats. This is so important because the outcome of this election will determine whether there is a Republican or Democratic Senate majority.
To win a Democratic Senate majority, both Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock — will have to win their seats. If either Republican candidate, Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue, wins, the Republicans will maintain their Senate majority, and Mitch McConnell will remain Senate majority leader; as currently, Republicans hold 50 of the 100 Senate seats and Democrats hold 48, and there are two independents — Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucus with the Democrats.
Democrats hold the House with a razor-thin majority, and Joe Biden, a Democrat, also holds the White House. But a Republican Senate can easily negate the efforts of Democratic governing bodies. When he was Senate Majority Leader during Barack Obama's presidency, Mitch McConnell was able to block much of Obama's legislation.
In short, in order to pass a substantial coronavirus relief bill, substantial climate crisis legislation, and many of the other initiatives Biden promised in his campaign, we need a Democratic Senate majority. While Mitch McConnell remains in charge of the Senate, every Democratic-leaning bill will face tremendous roadblocks to actualization.
As Jonathan Chait explains in his Intelligencer article, Only a Democratic Senate Can Produce a Moderate Biden Presidency, "McConnell won't bring a bill to the floor unless most Republicans support it," and, "When Biden takes office, the Republican incentive will lean heavily toward demonizing any Biden-supported initiative as a fiendish socialistic plot, making broad GOP support almost impossible."
That means, to put it bluntly: No $2,000 stimulus check and probably no future thanks to unchecked climate change. The stakes are, in fact, quite high.
In 8 days, Georgia has the opportunity to deliver the U.S. Senate majority by electing @ReverendWarnock and @ossoff… https://t.co/nykdQqPBg2— Stacey Abrams (@Stacey Abrams) 1609180553.0
What Are Runoffs, and Why Do They Exist?
A runoff occurs when there is no clear winner in an election. Georgia law proclaims that candidates must win over 50% of the total vote to win an election; if this doesn't happen, the race goes to a runoff. In the general election, Warnock won the most votes followed by Loeffler, but neither garnered the 50% needed, and all candidates went to runoffs.
Georgia's runoff elections were created in the 1960s as a way to keep white candidates in power, reports The New York Times, in a majority-white state where Black candidates had better shots at winning a plurality of the vote. Runoffs also typically benefit white candidates whose followers typically vote more frequently.
Who Is Running?
Currently, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue represent Georgia in the Senate. Kelly Loeffler is a businesswoman and devotee of Donald Trump. The richest US Senator, she made headlines for selling $18 million worth of vulnerable stocks after being briefed on COVID-19, meaning she profited from the coronavirus crisis. (Lawmakers are barred from insider training, but a probe into Loeffler's activity was eventually dropped).
Loeffler's opponent, Rev. Warnock, would be Georgia's first Black senator. He is a pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King once preached, and he is a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. For her part, Loeffler has criticized BLM for what she calls its "Marxist" origins.
David Perdue is a Senator and businessman. Similarly to Loeffler, he sold stocks prior to the 2020 stock market crash. He does not believe in climate change, opposes same-sex marriage and wants to slash the Affordable Care Act.
Perdue's opponent, Jon Ossoff, is a 33-year-old former journalist. His campaign made waves when Perdue failed to meet him in their debate, leaving him to speak to an empty room. Ossoff interned for Congressman John Lewis, who passed away earlier this summer, and has painted himself as a youthful idealist and Democratic moderate.
"Both are representing the New South," said Representative Hank Johnson of Warnock and Ossoff. "It's very symbolic. It's providential. I think Georgia and Georgians have changed quite a lot. There are people with old South ideas — but they're fewer and fewer."
What Are the Odds?
Both Democrats and Republicans are pouring millions into the race, and the Republicans have far outspent the Democrats thus far.
Georgia has not seen a Democratic Senator in 20 years. Republicans have far more money and establishment power on their side. The polls aren't looking great for Democratic candidates, though most do show a close race (though who trusts polls anymore, anyway?).
There's also a long and horrifying history of voter suppression in Georgia that is alive and well today. In addition to the racist history of runoffs themselves, Georgia has always fought to make it difficult for anyone not white to vote. After the 15th Amendment allowed Black men to vote, Georgia employed the Ku Klux Klan and other forms of violence and intimidation at the polls.
It has since closed majority-Black polling spaces, creating hours-long waits. It has required "exact match" signatures on voting records, an effort that disqualified thousands — 80% of the disqualified being people of color.
A recent seven-year investigation found that Georgia purged over 200,000 evoters from its rolls, marking them as ineligible when they actually were eligible. These methods disproportionately affected Black voters, voters living in metro areas, and voters who did not speak English. The list of Georgia's effort to suppress its voters' constitutional rights goes on and on and continues to this day.
Democratic candidates, however, are supported by organizers like those at Fair Fight who are on the ground getting people to the polls. Other organizations like New Georgia Project and Southerners on New Ground have been working tirelessly to reach people who have too long been ignored by modern politics, showing them that their vote can help make a tangible difference in their lives. And with the entire country's eyes on Georgia, it's hard to know what the outcome will be.
Either way, it's clear that there's a new organizing infrastructure in Georgia that's here to stay.
What Can We Do?
If you're from Georgia or know people there, contacting family and friends and asking them to contact their family and friends and to ask the same — a technique known as vote tripling — is definitely one of the most effective ways to get out the vote. In addition, many people are going to Georgia to do in-person ballot curing, poll-watching, canvassing, and voter aid such as keeping voters comfortable in line.
If you're not in Georgia, you can join a phonebank or text bank and make calls or send texts to Georgians all throughout the week.
Like texting? How about expanding electoral access? How about the FABULOUS @Peppermint247? [email protected] get out the vote… https://t.co/ZxCfnYrkcv— New Georgia Project (@New Georgia Project) 1609191711.0
Pursuing more lawsuits and investigations will never restore trust. Fixing our electoral system could.
Update: Enough electors have now cast their votes to make Joe Biden and Kamala Harris officially the next president and vice president of the United States.
Today in D.C. the 538 electors in the electoral college are casting the votes that will seal Joe Biden's victory as president-elect of the United States.
Still, President Donald Trump has yet to concede, and thousands of his supporters are gathering in the streets in protest of what they believe was a stolen election. Perhaps they're hoping for a groundswell of faithless electors to flip the Electoral College vote — unlikely as that may be.
Thousands of Trump supporters rally in Washington, D.C. to protest election results www.youtube.com
What's more surprising is that nearly two thirds of Republican legislators in the House of Representatives recently backed a legal case in which the state of Texas was suing four other states for the way they ran their elections. The case has since been roundly rejected by the Supreme Court.
Even the three Trump-appointees ruled that there was no basis to even consider it. But why did so many GOP politicians stick their necks out to back a case that was doomed to fail?
The answer is that their voters no longer trust American elections. With trust in the electoral system having dropped by nearly half among Republican voters — down to 36% from its 68% peak just before the election — these legislators are signaling to their base that they agree.
Look at Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler. In her debate with challenger Raphael Warnock on December 6th, Senator Loeffler repeatedly highlighted the existence of "over 250" open investigations into possible issues with the election.
Does she actually think that the results of the election are likely to be overturned? It's possible, but what's more likely is that she's concerned about her own prospects in the upcoming runoff election.
She wants to signal to the voters who are threatening to abandon the GOP out of loyalty to Trump that she is on their side — that she, too, wants to reject the election results… But she still wants them to go to the polls in January.
Loeffler Warnock debate
In many respects these lawsuits and the statements about investigations can be dismissed as political theater. But there is a real issue underlying them: American presidential elections are deeply messy and confusing.
It makes sense that voters don't trust our system, because our system is almost impossible to understand. Every state has its own rules for how votes can be cast, how they can be counted, and how the state's electors are distributed among the candidates.
Does your state allow drive-through polling or same-day registration? Does it use paper ballots or electronic voting?
Does it cut off mail-in ballots based on arrival date or postmark? Does it give all of its electors to the candidate that gets the most votes, or does it split them up — like Maine and Nebraska?
It would be silly to think that these differences don't affect the outcome of elections, so why shouldn't residents of a state like Texas scrutinize how other states run their elections? If we are all going to have to live with the result, don't we all have a stake in how voters are purged from the voting polls in Georgia?
The answer is that these differences are an inevitable consequence of the Constitution. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are granted sovereign control over how their electors are selected — with electors pledged to one presidential candidate or another.
In the past this meant that many states didn't rely on a popular vote at all. Instead, state legislatures decided which candidate they preferred and sent electors to Washington accordingly.
At this point every state allows its citizens to vote for their preferred candidate, but each state's election is so different, despite the fact that we all live with the results together. Is it any wonder people are confused and distrustful?
It doesn't help that the president and his supporters are casting further doubt on every aspect of the process, but that's hardly the only problem. The fact that every state has its own procedures and its own electoral apparatus multiplies the number of possible flaws in the system by 50 — technically 51, including DC.
This can only produce more confusion and distrust — more "Stop the Steal" protests and threats of violence. But there is good news: We can fix this.
The Constitution is not immutable. It is a living document, with an established process for changing and improving it. And while it's generally very hard to pass an amendment, if Donald Trump spent the remainder of his term in office pushing for an amendment to fix American elections, he could get enough bipartisan support — by killing the Electoral College.
Back in 2018 President Trump spoke out against the Electoral College in an interview with Fox & Friends. Democrats have long railed against the institution for having twice in the last 20 years handed the necessary 270 electoral votes to Republican candidates who lost the popular vote — the same thing nearly happened this year.
But those critics found an unlikely ally in one of the supposed beneficiaries of our current system. President Donald Trump argued in the interview that the Electoral College totally transforms the nature of the campaign, stating, "I would rather have the popular vote, because it's — to me, it's much easier to win."
President Trump Endorses National Popular Vote on Fox & Friends www.youtube.com
If he pushes to reform the system now — uniting his loyalists with Democrats — he could have the chance to prove that point in 2024. It would also be a way for him to leave an indelible, positive mark on the very fabric of our nation.
It would prevent a recurrence of the current confusion and distrust — with so many lawsuits in different states making room for uncertainty. But it would also eliminate a lot of other problems with our current system.
By establishing a federally controlled popular vote for the presidency, we could correct the fact that votes in different states are worth more than others — a vote in Texas is worth ⅓ of a vote in Vermont. We could even take the opportunity to introduce some other common sense reforms, like ranked choice voting and enfranchising voters in Puerto Rico and other territories — who have so far been subject to taxation without representation.
There are other ways to fix some of the problems with the electoral college, but none would be as effective and enduring in restoring trust in our elections as an amendment to the Constitution. By establishing a secure, unified, and straightforward electoral process for all American citizens — one person, one vote — Donald Trump could establish a lasting legacy for his 2016-2020 term.
And if he decides to run again in 2024, there would be no question about last minute rule changes or cheating in swing states. There would be one set of rules for the entire country. He would win or lose based on the simple reality of how many voters want him to be their president.
With so many politicians arguing that we need to pursue an endless string of confusing lawsuits involving hazy evidence, in order to "restore faith in the election process," it's time to look toward preventing this chaos and doubt in the future.
We don't need 51 separate, potentially vulnerable elections to pick one president. We need to kill the electoral college.