How to vote in Georgia’s Senate runoff: registration deadlines, requesting absentee ballots, and more

Make sure you're registered and ready to go

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How to vote in the Georgia runoff how to vote absentee
Voters cast ballots in Atlanta on November 3.

Photograph by Megan Varner/Getty Images

The 2020 election is over . . . not. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware that Georgia is going to be the center of the political universe for the next two months while incumbent Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock duke it out for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. And while there will be plenty of analysis, attack ads, debates, and tweets, what you need to know the most right now is how to vote. Below, a handy quick-start guide:

Can I register to vote in the January 5 runoff even if I wasn’t registered for the general?
Yes! The voter registration deadline for the January 5 runoff is December 7. You can register online here through the Secretary of State’s office. To register online, you must have a valid Georgia driver’s license or ID card issued by Georgia DDS. If you don’t have either of these things, you can apply using this mail-in form, which will ask for the last 4 digits of your social security number in lieu of a driver’s license or Georgia ID number. Print and complete the form and mail it; the postage is prepaid. If you don’t own a printer, you can get one of these forms at the county board of registrars’ office, or an election office, libraries, schools, recruitment offices, or if you’re a college student, from your school’s registrar office.

To be eligible to vote in Georgia, you must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of whichever county you live in, and at least 18 years old on Election Day (you can register once you hit 17 and a half years old). You also cannot be serving a sentence “for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude,” and you cannot have been found “mentally incompetent” by a judge.

What if I was 17 on Election Day but I’ll be 18 by the January 5 runoff?
Yup, you can vote as as long as you will be 18 on or before January 5 and register to vote by December 7.

Can I request an absentee ballot for the January runoff?
Sure can. Complete an application online (you’ll need your county, state ID number, birth date, and legal name). Alternatively, you can fill out this PDF and return to your county board of registrars via mail, fax, or email. You’ll need to sign the PDF application, so make sure it matches the signature the state has on file on your ID. Just as in the general election, absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, January 5. Request and send your ballot sooner rather than later; while state law says that absentee ballots can be requested through the Friday before the election, for the January 5 runoff, that Friday happens to be New Year’s Day, so you’ll want to have thought ahead. Also be mindful of postal delays due to the holidays. Remember that you can also drop off your ballot at an official county drop box up until 7 p.m. on Election Day. Check your county’s election website for details and drop box locations: Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton.

Will there be early voting for the runoff?
Yes, indeed—early voting for the January runoff starts on December 14. Check your county’s elections website for polling place locations and hours.

Wait, aren’t there two elections coming up? One in December and one in January?
Yes, and it can be confusing. The election on January 5 will be runoffs for federal offices, most notably, the elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats. This is the one that is attracting national attention.

However, there is another election on December 1 for local and state runoffs. Ironically, here in Atlanta, the most high-profile runoff on that ballot is, in fact, a federal one: the runoff between Kwanza Hall and Robert Franklin to determine who will hold 5th District Congressional District seat for the rest of the current term, which is just a few weeks. Nikema Williams, who won the November 3 general election, will hold the seat for the next full term and will be sworn in on January 3, 2021.

For those living in State Senate District 39, there is also the Special Democratic Primary on December 1 to determine who will fill Nikema Williams’s vacated state Senate seat. Sonya Halpern and Linda Prichett are the candidates. An important thing to know about this one: it is on its own separate ballot. This means that if you already voted early for the 5th Congressional District runoff (early voting began on November 9 and runs through the 25th), you have not yet voted in the state Senate runoff and will still need to do so. Early voting for this state Senate runoff will be held on November 23-25. Furthermore, Fulton County elections chief Richard Barron also told the AJC that voters who arrive to vote in-person on December 1 will have to check-in twice to vote in both the 5th Congressional District and State Senate District 39 runoffs and that there will be separate voter check-in lines for the congressional runoff and the state Senate runoff. So, just know that if you live in both of these districts, you are eligible to vote in both runoffs, and be sure to ask poll workers on-site for help if you are confused. (You likely won’t be the only one.)

There is also a local race that was recently pushed to the January 5 runoff—the Public Service Commission District 4 runoff between Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr. and Daniel Blackman. PSC District 4 includes several North and Northeast Georgia counties, including Cherokee and Forsyth.

When in doubt, check your Georgia My Voter Page to see who is on your ballot and your county’s election website to see when and where to vote.

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