Election 2020 has been full of surprises, and chief among them is the fact that control of the Senate was not decided following the November election. Instead, the majority party for the new congressional term will be settled through a runoff Senate election in Georgia on January 5, 2021.
Both races to represent Georgia in the United State Senate failed to give any candidate a clear majority of the votes, and under state law, the lack of majority means the two candidates with the largest plurality of votes have to face each other again in a runoff election. While it’s already unusual that both senators from a particular state are up for election in the same year, a double runoff is an even more rare occurrence.
However, runoff elections in Georgia – and Louisiana, the only other state that requires them – are hardly a quirk limited to the 2020 election. The history of the January 5 runoff election in Georgia starts back in the 19th century, when the perceived threat of newly emancipated (male) slaves actually exercising their right to vote ushered in an increasingly systematic and violent campaign of voter suppression, of which the runoff election is one manifestation.