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A Voter’s Guide To Georgia’s Runoff Election

Control of the U.S. Senate hinges on the results of next month’s runoff.

A supporter waves a sign during a rally for Georgia Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia.
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A Voter’s Guide To Georgia’s Runoff Election

Control of the U.S. Senate hinges on the results of next month’s runoff.


After voting to elect a Democratic president for the first time in 28 years, Georgians will now decide if Democrats will control the Senate. 

Georgia is holding a runoff election on Jan. 5, with significant national implications: Both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot. A win by one or both of the Republican incumbents would keep the Senate under the control of Republicans and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But two Democratic wins would create an even 50-50 split, and give the tie-breaking vote to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. 

With Democrats holding a majority in the House of Representatives, the outcome of Georgia’s election will be the difference between the Biden administration facing obstruction on everything from cabinet appointments to COVID-19 relief, and actually having the power to govern effectively and pursue its legislative agenda. At stake are major policy initiatives on issues ranging from healthcare and education to climate change and voting rights. In this way, Georgia voters will set the direction of American politics for the next few years. 

The runoff also includes a statewide race for a seat on Georgia’s Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates and ensures accessible, affordable utility services like gas, electricity, and telecommunications.

But despite the clear stakes, another election so soon after the presidential race can be confusing. This guide has everything voters need to know, including key dates, how to vote, and why this runoff is happening in the first place. 

Senate Candidates

Senate Race A

Senate Race B

Public Service Commissioner Candidates

What is a runoff election, and why are we having one now? 

A runoff election is held when no candidate meets the required threshold to be declared the winner. Georgia law requires a candidate to receive the majority of the total votes in order to win an election. If no candidate reaches 50 percent, a runoff is held between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. 

When does the runoff election take place?

Georgia law provides that a runoff for a federal office takes place on the ninth Tuesday after the general election. For this election cycle, that date is Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Georgia officials also decided that the statewide runoff for the Public Service Commission would happen on the same day. 

Who is eligible to vote in this runoff election?

Any Georgia resident who will be 18 by Jan. 5, and is registered to vote by Dec. 7, may cast a ballot in the runoff. That includes the approximately 23,000 young people who were too young to vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election but will turn 18 by Jan. 5—a significant number in a closely divided state like Georgia. (In the Nov. 3 election, only about 90,000 votes separated Senate candidates Perdue and Ossoff.) 

I have a felony conviction. Am I eligible to register to vote?

In Georgia, you can register to vote after completing your sentence for a felony conviction, including serving any term of imprisonment, probation, or parole, and paying all fines, unless those fines have been canceled. Your sentence is considered completed even if you have other unpaid legal financial obligations, such as restitution, fees, costs, or surcharges. 

How do I register to vote? 

The voter registration deadline for the January runoff election is Monday. 

You can register to vote, check your voter registration, and make changes to your current registration record at Georgia’s online voter registration system. You will need to provide a state driver’s license number.  

You can also download a fillable, postage-paid PDF registration application. You will still need to provide a state driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number and, if you are a first-time registrant, a copy of this ID. These forms are also available at a number of local government offices, including schools and public libraries. 

I didn’t vote in the general election. Can I vote in the runoff?

Yes. Any registered voter who will be at least 18 years of age by Jan. 5 may vote in the runoff, regardless of whether they voted in the Nov. 3 general election. 

Can I vote early? 

Yes. Early in-person voting begins on Dec. 14. You can check the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page for information on early voting locations. 

Do I need to have an ID in order to vote? 

Yes. Under Georgia law, you will have to show an ID if you are voting in person. 

Acceptable types of ID include the following:

(With the exception of the Georgia driver’s license, which may be used even if it has expired, all other types of ID must be valid, or non-expired.) 

  • A Georgia’s driver’s license, even if it has expired.
  • Any valid state or federal government-issued photo ID, including the free voter photo ID cards issued by your county registrar’s office and the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS). 
  • A valid driver’s license or photo ID issued from a different state. 
  • A valid U.S. passport.
  • A valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority, or other entity of the state. 
  • A valid U.S. military photo ID.
  • A valid tribal photo ID.

What if I do not have one of the acceptable types of ID?

Georgia offers a free voter photo ID card. These are issued by your county registrar’s office and the state’s Department of Driver Services. The required documentation differs slightly. 

To obtain a free voter photo ID card from your county registrar’s office, you will need to provide all of the following: 

  • A photo identity document or approved non-photo identity document that includes your full legal name and date of birth.
  • Documentation showing your date of birth.
  • Evidence that you are a registered voter, such as a voter registration card.
  • Documentation showing your name and residential address.

To obtain a free voter photo ID card from DDS, you will need to provide all of the following: 

  • An original or certified document such as a birth certificate or passport.
  • Your Social Security card.
  • Two documents showing your residential address, such as a bank statement or utility bill. 
  • If you’ve had a name change, then you’ll also need to bring a document to prove that, such as a marriage license.
  • A signed affidavit.
  • Evidence that you are a registered voter, such as a voter registration card.

How do I request an absentee ballot? 

Absentee ballots are not mailed automatically in Georgia, but it is easy to request one. You can follow this link to the Secretary of State’s website, or request one from your local registrar’s office by following this link and finding your county. 

The state began mailing absentee ballots on Nov. 18. You can check the status of your returned ballot here

Can I return my absentee ballot to a dropbox? 

Yes. Dropboxes will be available just as they were in the November election. Ballots are due by 7 p.m. on Jan. 5. 

How do I know if my absentee ballot was accepted? 

You can check the Georgia secretary of state’s My Voter Page for the status of your returned ballot. Follow this link for a helpful step-by-step guide. If your absentee ballot is rejected you will have the opportunity to fix, or “cure,” the ballot so that it is counted. Follow this guide to learn how. 

I live in the Fifth Congressional District and voted absentee in the separate runoff election on Dec. 1. Do I need to request separate ballots for the Jan. 5 runoff? 

Probably yes. The congressional runoff requires its own absentee ballot, which means you must request both separately. But if you signed up to receive automatic absentee ballots for the remainder of the election cycle because you are over 65, disabled, or residing overseas, then a ballot will be mailed to you. 

How do I vote in person on Jan. 5?

You will vote at your assigned precinct polling location. You can find your location by checking the secretary of state’s My Voter Page

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

What if I have a problem when I go to vote? 

You can call the Election Protection Hotline at the following numbers. You can also request a provisional ballot. If you vote by provisional ballot, you will need to follow up with your county election board (found here) to make sure your vote is counted. 

English: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683)

Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (1-888-839-8682)

Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, and Tagalog: 1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-274-8683)

Arabic: 1-844-YALLA-US (1-844-925-5287)

Any Language: Text “Our Vote” to: 97779

Here is a link to a guide of common problems voters encounter at the polls and what to do about them. 

This is a lot of information. Can you put all the key dates in one place?

Yes. 

Nov. 18: Officials began mailing absentee ballots to those who request them.

Dec. 7: Last day to register to vote.

Dec. 14: Early in-person voting begins.

Jan. 5: Election Day. Polls are open and drop boxes are available until 7 p.m.