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Watching the events unfold from across the pond (I am a UK citizen) I am keen to learn the systems in place with the elections in the US.

I have seen that just like in the 2020 general election (Why are there run-off elections in Georgia this year?) there is to be a run-off election in this years US Senate election in Georgia.

How this came about is another question which I may ask later, but for this question I know what I am asking below are 3 questions on top of my main question, but they are interlinked as I am trying to understand how many run-off elections can be carried out.

  1. Do the 3 candidates who ran this year — Raphael Warnock (Democrat), Herschel Walker (Republican) and Chase Oliver (Libertarian) — run in the run-offs or is the run-off only run with the 2 candidates with the most votes (Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker)?
  2. If all three are run again, what happens if there are similar results (nobody gaining at least 50% of the vote)? Does another run-off happen and keep happening with the 3 candidates until the 50% minimum is reached?
  3. If there are 2 candidates and the very unlikely occurs where both candidates get exactly 50% of the vote, is there another run-off?
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    Note that your question is about Georgia, not the US. In many states, if the same results came in, Mr Warnock would have won immediately, as the plurality winner. In at least one state, IRV is used, so there would not be a second election; instead, the initial ballot would allow voters to choose a first, second, (third...) choice, and the "runoff" would just be a matter of re-tabulation. Nov 10, 2022 at 12:30
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    Just as a heads up to OP, in the United States, the determination of election laws in the United States are largely set by the individual states, so the answer you recieved will be specific to Georgia, not something that happens in the United States as a whole. In many states, runoffs do not happen and the winner of the plurality of votes will be declared winner of an election. Others are adopting a "Ranked Choice" instant runoff model.
    – hszmv
    Nov 10, 2022 at 12:30
  • @hszmv As an explicit example, the election for Senate in Alaska most likely will be determined by ranked choice. I wouldn't call it "instant runoff" because the tabulation won't occur until 15 days after the election (which will be 23 November this year). Alaska is giving itself 15 days to ensure that they have the first round count correct before having to resort to ranked choice. That said, I like the concept of ranked choice due to the disparate participation in the main election versus runoffs. Nov 10, 2022 at 14:22
  • @DavidHammen: Agreed. Runoffs tend to attract only those who decided not to vote in the general because they thought it wouldn't matter. I'm all for the right not to vote. And my definition of Instant Runoff is that the runoff is conducted using the same ballots that were cast in the general, regardless of time between initial count and second count. So what if it takes Alaska 15 days to initiate the run-off... they are still doing it without holding a special election.
    – hszmv
    Nov 10, 2022 at 14:46

2 Answers 2

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Run-off elections - in states where they take place - only happen between the top two candidates, where neither of these candidates received over 50% of the vote in the first ballot. In the case of Georgia, the relevant law is GA Code § 21-2-501, which states:

Except as otherwise provided in this Code section, no candidate shall be nominated for public office in any primary or special primary or elected to public office in any election or special election or shall take or be sworn into such elected public office unless such candidate shall have received a majority of the votes cast to fill such nomination or public office. In instances where no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, a run-off primary, special primary runoff, run-off election, or special election runoff between the candidates receiving the two highest numbers of votes shall be held.

To relate this to a UK perspective, it works similarly to how the London Mayoral elections worked prior to 2022 - if no candidate received an absolute majority in the first round, the top two candidates progressed to a second runoff round. The difference is that in London, voters expressed two preferences on their ballot paper and the runoff election happened immediately, rather than four weeks later.

Georgia law doesn't appear to provide for a tied vote in a run-off election, so in this case there would probably be a number of recounts which would eventually lead to one candidate or the other achieving victory, or if this was unable to separate the candidates, the election could be decided through drawing lots. This is not codified in Georgia law, however - unlike in some states such as Florida or California where the drawing of lots is set out in statute.

The law above could possibly also be read as requiring a second runoff election if the initial runoff resulted in a tie.

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    Georgia does not have a drawing of lots, coin toss, or some other random method to determine the winner in a tied election. (Several states do.) The law you cited specifically says the winner has to receive at least 50%+1 of the valid ballots, without exception and no clause for resolving a tie. If, after all of the recounting and ballot scrutiny, the runoff remains tied, I read that law as saying there would be yet another runoff election. Nov 10, 2022 at 13:47
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    @DavidHammen I read the law as saying that this happens in "any election or special election", and then explicitly making separate provisions for a "run-off election, or special election runoff". Agree that 'any election' could also be read as requiring a second runoff though. Realistically it's incredibly unlikely to happen in any case.
    – CDJB
    Nov 10, 2022 at 13:52
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    Lots of states (and interestingly, the upcoming FIFA World Cup) explicitly call out for drawing of lots (coin toss, drawing a straw, drawing a ball with a name inside, ...) as the last resort tie breaker. Nov 10, 2022 at 14:35
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    Really, 50% + 1 of the votes? So in the case of 5 votes, you would require 3.5 votes, so a 3-2 election still counts as a tie? I've seen people make this mistake before, and I know people who write laws typically aren't computer scientists, but it somehow still surprises me to see it in actual statute.
    – AI0867
    Nov 10, 2022 at 20:52
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    @AI0867 No, the text of the law just says "majority". 50%+1 is just a convenient (albeit not perfectly accurate) way to refer to it.
    – Bobson
    Nov 10, 2022 at 21:30
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Answering the the third part (the other one correctly answers the other questions) : there is rarely, if ever, a provision for when a popular election is tied in countries or territories where the electorate is at least in the hundreds of thousands (much more than that in the case of Georgia).

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    Many US states have a specific provision for a tie- specifying what specific game of chance is used.
    – Damila
    Nov 12, 2022 at 3:41
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    This is covered in the other answer - "Georgia law doesn't appear to provide for a tied vote in a run-off election, so in this case..." Nov 12, 2022 at 13:09

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