On Election Day 2020, both US Senate seats for Georgia were up for election. However, no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, and so both races go to a second round. This runoff election will be on January 5th, 2021.

My question is: why this date? The new US congress gets sworn in on January 3th, so having the runoff election two days after that seems a little late?

  • They won't necessarily be sworn in on Jan 3. See Will the next Congress (2021) be sworn in on a Sunday?
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 15:48
  • Missing a couple of days is not a big deal when you have a term measured in years.
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 18:18
  • It gives more time for people to move to Georgia to vote in the runoff.
    – Glen Yates
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


What is the reason for the date of the Georgia runoff elections for the US Senate?


Georgia Code Title 21. Elections § 21-2-501

(3) In the case of a runoff from a general election for a federal office or a runoff from a special primary or special election for a federal office held in conjunction with a general election, the runoff shall be held on the Tuesday of the ninth week following such general election.

November 3, 2020 to January 5, 2021 (a Tuesday) is nine weeks.

One of the runoffs is from a "general election for a federal office". The other is from a "special election for a federal office held in conjunction with a general election".

Background leading to the "ninth week" choice

In 2009, Congress approved the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. One of the provisions of the MOVE act is a 45-day period to allow certain voters to receive and return ballots for elections.

States are required to transmit a validly requested absentee ballot to an absent uniformed services voter or overseas voter no later than 45 days before an election if the request is received at least 45 days before the election. A state can seek a hardship waiver from the requirement under certain circumstances.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act: Overview and Issues

While states, including Georgia, passed legislation to come into compliance regarding the time between primaries and elections, Georgia did not change its law regarding runoffs, which were less than 45 days. In 2012, the Department of Justice sued Georgia.

The United States of America ("United States") and the State of Georgia ("Georgia") now disagree as to how federal law should be interpreted and applied to Georgia's efforts with regard to the timing and methodology of Georgia's runoff absentee voting scheme.

The disagreement was over the meaning of "election" as it relates to a "runoff" in the context of the MOVE Act. The United States prevailed at District Court. Georgia appealed. The Appeals Courts upheld the District Court. Georgia changed its law.

At the time of the suit, Georgia was using 21 days for primary and special elections, with 28 days for general elections, to set the date of a runoff. Under the rules of the MOVE Act, Georgia could use any date at least 45 days after any election. For a runoff to occur on Tuesday and using seven weeks after the general election would mean that the runoff could occur on Christmas Day; eight weeks could be New Years Day. Nine weeks was chosen.

Georgia could have complied with the MOVE Act by changing to plurality rather than majority to decide the election, that would have eliminated the runoff.

  • 12
    "why is X?" "Because the law/rules says X". Well yeah, but why is the law like that? It technically is an answer... Even though it gives no insights in the real reasons.
    – user33025
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 5:05
  • The ballots for the special election obviously cannot be printed before the regular election takes place and is counted. Nine weeks gives a healthy cushion of time. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 5:13
  • 13
    @PA71: For the question at hand it isn't obvious at all that this is regulated by law. It could have been a decision made by some administration official or some judge or sombody else. In addition, the answer gave a link where you can further look at the law. In my experience, answers that cite a law or rule are a good starting point. They answer the immediate question and can lead to followup questions in cases like yours.
    – Ingix
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 9:16
  • 1
    Interestingly, the 2014 version of that Code is the same as your quote, but the 2013 version has a 28 days interval instead. So this seems to be a recent change. And indeed, the previous Senate runoff in 2008 was in early December instead of January. Do you know why this change was made?
    – Marc
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 10:21
  • 2
    @MarcPaul - The short time between election and runoff violated federal law. See, Georgia elections, 2012, Issues, "Department of Justice sues over voting deadlines."
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 13:26

They don't have to be seated on January 3rd with the rest of the incoming senators and it is more important to give all parties proper time to prepare for the election as well as ensure that everything is ready and in place for the voters to go out in vote. Unfortunately that is never a quick process and it just takes some time to get it all ready.

  • 6
    France manages to do a presidential run-off in 2 weeks - including counting all the votes for a population of 67m. <shrug>
    – RopeySim
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 8:37
  • 4
    @RPSM Election infrastructure in multi-party systems assumes a run-off at the start and is geared up for it. So much so that, usually, the second round vote is pre-scheduled. Run-off elections in the US are (to my knowledge) a rare event, and so exception handling is in effect. That's always a heavier process, not only in logistical terms, but mostly, in terms of mobilizing the populace to ponder the candidates and go out to the polls again. A wider time frame is more than justified. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 9:11
  • 2
    This makes sense, but the previous Senate runoff in 2008 was held in early December, so it can be done quicker if they want. And won't missing the first few weeks of the Senate cause the incoming Senators to miss some important opportunaties? I guess there won't be any important legislature to vote on yet, but maybe some Committees get formed that won't have any Georgia senators because of the late run-off election?
    – Marc
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 10:30
  • I think it's more complicated than this. The US system is inherently broken without having to look at run-off elections. Also there is no built in assumption to a multi-party system, Spain doesn't do run-offs, and I don't think most of the other European Union countries do either. I would also say that, technically at least, the US is a multi-party system.
    – RopeySim
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 10:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .