Senate Edition: What is a ‘special election’ and what is going on in Georgia?

Amidst a heated Presidential election, a lot is also going on in the Senate. The Republican Majority had the most seats up for grabs, leaving them vulnerable. But as the results come in, it’s starting to appear as though the polls promising a Democratic flip may have been wrong. However, there is one election we won’t know the results of…until at least January 5th, 2021. I am referring to the Georgia special election. But what is a special election and why is this one so important? 

What’s so special about a special election?

A special election is used to fill a vacancy, or a previously appointed seat resulting from a vacancy. This election may occur separately from a November election day and the term to fill the seat varies. If a Senator dies or resigns, the 17th amendment of the Constitution gives the state’s Governor the power to decide whether to call a special election or to simply appoint someone to fill the vacant seat. Typically, a Senator serves for 6 years, but when the vacancy is filled the new Senator only serves for the remainder of the departing Senator’s term (less than 6 years).

Where have I seen this before?

You may recall, in December of 2017, a special election in Alabama took place where Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore. Senator Jones’ Senate term was not for the usual 6 years, but rather, just through the end of the resigning Senator’s term (which is slated to end on January 3rd, 2021). As a result, Senator Jones was up for re-election last night, and lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. Senator-elect Tuberville will now serve a full 6 year term. The flip for Republicans was largely expected due to Alabama being a heavily Republican state. In addition, Senator-elect Tuberville is a well liked candidate, as opposed to, Mr. Moore, who was seen as a controversial candidate due to the multiple sexual assault allegations levied against him. 

What are the special elections happening now (in the 2020 Election)?

There are two, one in Arizona and one in Georgia.

What’s going on in Arizona?

In Arizona, Senator Martha McSally was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the late Senator McCain. Senator McSally had lost in the 2018 Senate election to Democrat Krysten Sinema, but was appointed by the Governor to fill a second seat left vacant by Senator McCain’s death. While Senator Sinema is serving a full 6 year term, Senator McSally is only serving until the special election and is thus up for re-election this year. As of last night she was fighting to keep her seat against Democrat Mark Kelly. The race has since been called for Mark Kelly, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat. Senator-elect Mark Kelly will likely be sworn in as soon as the results are finalized and will serve the remainder of Senator McCain’s term, through 2022.

What about Georgia?

Georgia is currently the only state that has both of its Senate seats open. One of the Senate races is a regular election race, while the other is a special election. In Georgia’s special election, the current incumbent, Senator Kelly Loeffler is battling against Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Doug Collins. Senator Loeffler was appointed by the Georgia Governor to fill the vacancy left by Senator Isakson’s resignation, but the vacancy is only valid until the special election, happening now. During this special election, and subsequent runoff, the winner will then serve the remainder of the Senator Isakson’s original term. 

Did you say a runoff?

Yes, this is a super special election in that there was no primary and multiple candidates from both parties are on the ballot. Republicans Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins are battling each other, while also competing against Democrat Raphael Warnock. There are also many other candidates on the ballot, but these are three most prominent. In this situation, if no candidate captures a majority of the votes (50%+), the top two contenders will go on to compete in a runoff. 

And that’s exactly what happened… 

With a slight lead, Democrat Raphael Warnock is heading into the runoff against incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler, who trailed slightly behind in votes. This means that on January 5th, 2021 Georgia voters will turn out to the polls once again to vote for either Democrat Warnock or incumbent Senator Kelly Leffler to become Georgia’s Senator. This is a potentially crucial race for deciding which party holds the Senate majority.   

As of Wednesday, we do not yet know the outcome of the Presidential race. In the meantime, it is certainly worthwhile to learn more about some other highly important races. 


Copy editing by Megan Lachman


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