What you need to know before Tuesday’s runoff elections

Election season didn’t end when Brian Kemp claimed the win over Stacey Abrams in the governor’s race

John Barrow, Brad Raffensperger runoff
From left: Brad Raffensperger, John Barrow

Raffensperger: Photograph courtesy of Brad Raffensperger Campaign; Barrow: Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After all the hubbub surrounding Georgia’s hotly contested gubernatorial contest finally subsided on November 17—when Democrat Stacey Abrams admitted defeat to Republican Brian Kemp—some voters might feel a bit burnt out on state politics. But election season is not over just yet.

On Tuesday, a runoff election will be held—early voting ends today—to determine who will be Georgia’s next secretary of state, the position Kemp leaves behind, and District 3 public service commissioner. Voter turnout is expected to be scant, at least relative to the roughly 4 million people who showed up to the polls earlier this month.

After all the drama surrounding voters rights and access, polling machine functionality, and other issues in the general election, plenty of Georgians are better educated about the secretary of state’s role in managing the state’s elections system, but they might not know that the position entails far more than being the elections czar.

And when it comes to the Georgia Public Service Commission—not the sexiest of political posts—few people have a firm grasp on the responsibilities of a commissioner’s position. So we decided to break down the candidates, their platforms, and why you should care—and vote—yet again.

On November 7, after the votes were counted, Republican secretary of state candidate Brad Raffensperger, a state representative and CEO of an engineering firm, narrowly came out on top, with just over 49 percent of the vote—50 percent and one vote is needed to claim the win. Democratic Challenger John Barrow, a former congressman, snagged 48.6 percent, leaving about 2 percent of the count to Libertarian Smythe DuVal.

We asked the secretary of state candidates eight questions about their goals with the position and stances on topics. Here are Republican candidate Brad Raffensperger’s responses (Democratic candidate John Barrow was asked to participate but did not respond to our requests. Here is his official campaign website).

In addition to overseeing elections, the head of the secretary of state’s office must regulate business registrations and professional licensing. But the contest has revolved heavily around how Raffensperger and Barrow plan to change how people vote and how voter registrations are handled.

Georgia made national headlines in recent months thanks to widespread purging of the state’s voter rolls. Before Election Day, the secretary of state’s office placed more than 50,000 registered voters—mostly black people—on “pending” status, meaning, for one reason or another, their eligibility was put on hold due to sometimes minor discrepancies between the information held by the Department of Driver Services and the secretary of state’s office. Additionally, more than 100,000 people were kicked from voter rolls, largely because they hadn’t shown up to the polls for three years or so.

To complicate matters, skepticism about the integrity of Georgia’s 16-year-old electronic polling machines—some voters rights advocates have claimed they can be hacked—has launched a fierce debate over the legitimacy of the election results.

Barrow, a moderate Democrat, is lobbying for a major overhaul of the elections system, calling to get rid of the outmoded voting computers and lobbying to ensure people who haven’t been very active at the polls aren’t knocked from rolls.

Both candidates want to maintain the need to show photo identification at polling places, and Raffensperger agrees the old voting machines need replacing. And both want voters to have a verifiable paper trail. But, other than that, Raffensperger doesn’t want to touch the elections system that Georgia’s currently using. He’s said concerns of voter suppression, purging, and Election Day issues—long lines and malfunctioning polling machines—have been overblown, and he believes that some culling of the voter rolls is necessary to account for registered voters who have moved away or died.

Chuck Eaton/Lindy Miller runoff
From left: Lindy Miller, Chuck Eaton

Miller: Photograph courtesy of Lindy Miller Campaign; Eaton: Photograph courtesy of Chuck Eaton Campaign

For Georgia public service commissioner, the runoff contest pits Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton against Democratic businesswoman Lindy Miller, who, if elected, would be the first Jewish woman to win a statewide vote in Georgia. They took home 49.8 and 47.5 percent of the vote, respectively, with Libertarian Ryan Graham bringing in almost 3 percent—about 100,000 votes.

We asked the public service commissioner candidates six questions about their goals with the position and stances on topics. Here are Republican candidate Chuck Eaton’s responses and Democratic candidate Lindy Miller’s responses.

The Georgia Public Service Commission is tasked with overseeing telecommunications, electric, and natural gas utilities—and determining power bill costs—although the contest is more nuanced than a debate over environmental sustainability. But the focal point of the race is Plant Vogtle, where two new nuclear reactors are being constructed near Georgia’s eastern border in Waynesboro. The project is billions of dollars over budget, and Georgia Power customers have been making up for some of that via power bills—a roughly $100 per family per year increase. Granted, Georgia Power has refunded customers in increments of $25 on those bills.

Eaton, who’s been in office for two six-year terms, is adamant about keeping the project moving, and he’s also said he wants to expand Georgia’s energy options to include more solar power and other alternative energy sources.

Miller, who says residents in the state are paying the third highest energy bills in the country, wants to keep ratepayers’ bills as low as possible. She claims her opponent hasn’t done enough to keep the Plant Vogtle project on track and on budget, although she’s also supportive of the nuclear power project. She has also criticized Eaton for taking more than $300,000 from entities related to energy and communications companies such as SCANA Energy and AT&T over the course of his political career.

Regardless of which way you lean, Tuesday’s elections will be massively consequential to shaping the future of Georgia, and the lines at voting precincts are guaranteed to be far shorter than those on November 7. Think of it this way: Why not vote?

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