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Stories about Georgia

Georgia legislature sends two measures to the 2022 ballot during its 2021 session

The Georgia State Legislature adjourned its 2021 legislative session on April 1, 2021. The legislature passed two measures requiring voter approval at the general election in 2022:

  1. a constitutional amendment to suspend compensation for certain public officials while they are suspended from office due to a felony indictment and
  2. a measure to expand a property tax exemption to include merged family farms and dairy products and eggs.

A constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting was passed by the Senate but was not passed in the House before the 2021 legislative session adjourned. The amendment could be reconsidered during the 2022 legislative session.

Suspend Compensation for Assembly Members and Public Officials Indicted for a Felony Amendment:

This measure would amend the state constitution to provide for the suspension of compensation for the following public officials while the individual is suspended from office for being indicted for a felony:

  • Governor,
  • Lieutenant Governor,
  • Secretary of State,
  • Attorney General,
  • State School Superintendent,
  • Commissioner of Insurance,
  • Commissioner of Agriculture,
  • Commissioner of Labor, or
  • any member of the General Assembly.

Currently, under the state’s constitution, assembly members and public officials who are suspended from office due to the indictment for a felony still receive compensation until they are convicted. Officials that are reinstated to their position would receive pay that was withheld under the amendment.

The measure was passed in the Senate on March 8 by a vote of 51-1 with four excused or not voting. It was passed in the House on March 23 by a vote of 169-0 with 11 excused or not voting. The single no vote on the measure came from Republican Senator Bill Cowsert.

Merged Family-Owned Farms and Dairy and Eggs Tax Exemption Measure:

The Georgia Constitution requires voter approval of legislation to enact any property tax exemption, which must be passed in the legislature by a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote in each chamber.

This measure would expand certain property tax exemptions provided for agricultural equipment and certain farm products. The measure would allow any entity that is a merger of two or more family-owned farms to qualify. It would also extend the exemption to include dairy products and eggs.

The Senate approved the bill on March 31 by a vote of 48-0 with eight members excused or not voting. The House approved the bill on March 31 by a vote of 163-1 with 16 members excused or not voting. The single no vote in the legislature came from Democratic Representative Mesha Mainor.

A total of 84 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Georgia from 1996 to 2020, of which 84.5% (71 of 84) were approved, and 15.5% (13 of 84) were defeated.



Georgia to vote in 2022 on suspending pay for assembly members or public officials indicted for felony

Voters in Georgia will decide in 2022 whether to amend the state constitution to suspend compensation for the following public officials while the individual is suspended from office due to a felony indictment:

1. any member of the General Assembly;

2. Governor;

3. Lieutenant Governor;

4. Secretary of State;

5. Attorney General;

6. State School Superintendent;

7. Commissioner of Insurance;

8. Commissioner of Agriculture; or

9. Commissioner of Labor

Currently, under the state’s constitution, assembly members and public officials who are suspended from office due to the indictment for a felony still receive compensation until they are convicted. Officials that are reinstated to their position would receive pay that was withheld under the amendment.

The constitutional amendment was passed in the Senate by a vote of 51-1 and in the House by a vote of 169-0. The single no vote on the measure came from Republican Senator Bill Cowsert.

The measure was proposed in the state legislature shortly after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in late January that Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck has been receiving pay and benefits since being indicted for federal wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering charges in May 2019. The charges included stealing over $2 million from his former employer and using those funds to pay for his 2018 campaign. Beck was elected to the office on Nov. 6, 2018, and was suspended from the office by Governor Brian Kemp (R) on May 16, 2019.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Beck’s attorney said in June 2019 that “[Beck] acted legally and in good faith in his employment.” He also said Beck would fight the charges and planned to maintain his job as the state’s insurance commissioner. Beck said, “I am, in fact, innocent of these charges. In these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to resign as commissioner of insurance.” Because Beck was suspended and did not resign, the state has been compensating him, as well as John King, Kemp’s appointment to fill the position during Beck’s suspension.

Rep. Matthew Wilson (D) said Beck “is about to go a whole term without doing a job Georgians put their trust in him to do, but the taxpayers have been on the hook for his salary, health care and benefits the whole time.”



Former Sen. David Perdue (Geo.) will not run for U.S. Senate in 2022

Former Sen. David Perdue (R), who lost to Jon Ossoff (D) in the January runoff election for Senate in Georgia, announced he will not run for the state’s other Senate seat in 2022. Raphael Warnock (D), who defeated incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R) in the special runoff election in January, currently holds the seat. 

Georgia is one of eight 2022 Senate states that none of three independent race raters consider to be safely Democratic or Republican. Thirty-four seats are up for election next year. Georgia’s seat is one of four that flipped the last time these seats were up for election. 

Warnock defeated Loeffler by 2.1 percentage points in January. Prior to the runoff, 20 candidates were on the special November election ballot. Warnock received 33% of the vote to Loeffler’s 26%. Doug Collins (R) placed third with 20% of the vote. The six Republican candidates combined received 49.4% of the vote to the eight Democratic candidates’ combined 48.4% in the November election. 

Both Loeffler and Collins are considering running for Senate again in 2022.

Other potential battlegrounds in 2022 are Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Republicans and Democrats each currently hold four battleground seats. In Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Republican incumbents are not seeking re-election. Along with Georgia’s Senate seat, Democrats flipped New Hampshire’s and Nevada’s seats the last time they were up for election.

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Georgia Supreme Court chief justice announces 2021 retirement

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton scheduled his retirement from the bench for July 1, 2021. Melton said he would begin his post-retirement planning following this announcement. Melton’s replacement will be Governor Brian Kemp’s (R) third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Under Georgia law when an interim vacancy occurs, the seat is filled using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection. The governor selects the interim justice from a slate of candidates provided by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission recommends at least five candidates to the governor unless fewer than five applicants are found to be qualified. There is no requirement that the governor appoint a candidate from the nominating commission’s list.

Chief Justice Melton joined the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005. He was appointed to the court by Governor Sonny Perdue (R).

Before serving on the state supreme court, Melton began his legal career in the Georgia Department of Law. He went on to serve as a section leader with the Consumer Interests Division. He also served as executive counsel to Gov. Perdue.

Following Melton’s retirement, the Georgia Supreme Court will include the following members:

• Michael P. Boggs: appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2017

• David Nahmias: appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) in 2009

• Nels Peterson: appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2016

• Charlie Bethel: appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2018

• John Ellington: elected in 2018

• Carla W. McMillian: appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in 2020

• Sarah Warren: appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2018

• Shawn LaGrua: appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in 2020

In 2021, there have been eight supreme court vacancies in seven of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements.

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Analyzing Georgia runoff vote margins, turnout compared to prior years

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) certified the state’s Jan. 5 runoff election results on Jan. 19, and election winners Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D) were sworn into the Senate on Jan. 20. 

This was the third year Georgia has held a runoff election for U.S. Senate. The state also held Senate runoffs in 1992 and 2008. Like this year’s runoff, the previous two also featured a runoff for public service commissioner. 

Unlike the first two Senate runoffs, Democrats won in 2021. Ossoff defeated incumbent David Perdue (R) in the regular election, and Warnock defeated incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R) in the special election. Republican Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald won re-election in his runoff.

In previous runoffs for both Senate and public service commissioner, Republicans’ vote margin increased between the general election and the runoff. Turnout declined between the two elections between 43% and 44%.

In 2021, however, Democratic Senate candidates’ vote margins increased by around 3 percentage points between the general and runoff. And while McDonald won his runoff, his margin over Democrat Daniel Blackman decreased by around 2 percentage points. 

Turnout in the 2021 Senate runoffs was 9% lower than it was in the general election. Turnout for the public service commissioner race was 8% lower.

In Georgia, runoff elections are required for all congressional, state executive, and state legislative elections in which a candidate does not receive a majority in the general election. In November, Perdue led Ossoff 49.7% to 47.9%. In the special election, Warnock led the 20-candidate field with 32.9%, and Loeffler was second with 25.9%. All six Republican candidates combined received 49.4% of the special election vote in November, and all eight Democratic candidates combined received 48.4%.

Additional reading:



A closer look at turnout in Georgia’s statewide runoff elections

Although most of the nation’s focus during the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs was on the two U.S. Senate seats, there was one other runoff that didn’t receive as much attention. Voters in Georgia also decided the District 4 race for the state Public Utilities Commission (PSC), which resulted in a first for the Peach State. 

Incumbent Bubba McDonald (R) defeated challenger Daniel Blackman (D). McDonald’s victory in the 2020 runoffs marks the first time that both a Democrat and Republican have won in the same statewide runoff election in Georgia. In the two U. S. Senate runoffs, Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff each won.

McDonald received the most votes of any Republican candidate in the runoffs, whereas his opponent, Blackman, received the fewest votes of any Democratic candidate.

Unlike previous runoffs, the PSC runoff in 2020 also had the greatest level of parity compared to the U.S. Senate runoffs. Compared to the previous years where both positions advanced to a runoff (1992 and 2008), the overall turnout in the 2020 PSC runoff was 49,257 votes (1.1%) less than the highest-turnout U.S. Senate race. Historically, runoff elections for PSC have had a lower turnout than those for the Senate when the two appear on the same ballot. 

To learn more about the PSC election, click here.

To learn more about the two U.S. Senate runoffs, click here.



Republican incumbent re-elected to Public Service Commission in Georgia’s statewide runoff election

District 4 Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr. (R) won re-election to Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. He defeated challenger Daniel Blackman (D) with 50.6% of the vote, according to unofficial results posted on January 7. There were 4.40 million votes cast in the race.

The runoff was held after no candidates received a majority of the vote in the general election on November 3, 2020. McDonald received the highest number of votes in that race, winning 49.9% of the 4.84 million votes cast, roughly 0.1 percentage points below what he needed in order to win the election outright. Blackman received 47.0% of the vote, and Libertarian candidate Nathan Wilson received 3.1% of the vote.

While the PSC race had the lowest total votes of the night, McDonald received the third-highest number of votes (2.22 million votes), behind U.S. Senate challengers Raphael Warnock (D) (2.26 million) and Jon Ossoff (D) (2.24 million). Both Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) (2.19 million) and Sen. David Perdue (R) (2.20 million) received fewer votes than McDonald. Each U.S. Senate race saw approximately 4.45 million total votes.

The Georgia Public Service Commission is responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities—that is, electric, gas, telecommunications, and transportation firms—and is composed of five popularly elected members who serve staggered, six-year terms.

Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

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The Runoff Report: With Ossoff and Warnock wins, Democrats will control the Senate

In today’s final regular edition of The Runoff Report, we bring you the latest results and analysis of the Georgia Senate runoffs. Originally intended for yesterday, Jan. 6, we postponed the edition following the protests and riots surrounding Congress’ certification of the presidential election. For more, see today’s edition of The Transition Tracker.

Democrats win control of the Senate

Democrats won control of the U.S. Senate following Georgia’s two runoff elections on Tuesday. Jon Ossoff (D) defeated David Perdue (R) in the regular runoff election. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Kelly Loeffler (R) in the special runoff election. Georgia’s last Democratic senator, Zell Miller, left office in 2005.

In the regular runoff election, Ossoff had 50.4% of the vote to Perdue’s 49.6% as of Thursday morning. Ossoff will be the state’s first Jewish senator. 

Warnock won with 50.8% of the vote to incumbent Kelly Loeffler’s (R) 49.2% as of Thursday morning. Warnock will be the first Black U.S. senator from Georgia. 

Once sworn in after runoff results are certified, Ossoff and Warnock will bring the Democratic caucus to 50 members, splitting the chamber with 50 Republicans. The vice president—Kamala Harris (D) as of Jan. 20—has the tie-breaking vote in the chamber. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has until Jan. 22 to certify runoff results.

Perdue was elected to the Senate in 2014, and his term ended Jan. 3. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Loeffler after Johnny Isakson (R) resigned at the end of 2019 for health reasons. Once sworn in, Warnock will serve the remaining two years of the term Isakson won in 2016.

Democrats last controlled the Senate from 2007 to 2015. Democrats currently hold a majority of 222-211 in the U.S. House. 

Turnout

Around 4.5 million people voted in Georgia’s runoffs, compared to 5 million during the November election. That’s a turnout decrease of 10%. 

Before this year, Georgia had held two runoffs for U.S. Senate: one in 2008 and one in 1992. In 2008, turnout between the general and runoff elections decreased by 43%. In 1992, turnout decreased by 44%.

The New York Times reported the following estimated runoff turnout breakdown:

Over all, turnout reached a remarkable 92 percent of 2020 general election levels in precincts carried by Mr. Biden in November, compared with 88 percent of general election levels in the precincts carried by Mr. Trump. These tallies include Upshot estimates of the remaining uncounted vote by precinct, and it suggests that nearly all of the Democratic gains since the November election can be attributed to the relatively stronger Democratic turnout.

A majority of Georgia’s Democratic voters are Black — they are roughly 30 percent of the overall electorate — and it was these voters who drove the stronger Democratic turnout. Over all, turnout reached 93 percent of 2020 levels in precincts where Black voters represented at least 80 percent of the electorate. In comparison, turnout fell to 87 percent of general election levels in white working-class precincts.

Pivot and Reverse-Pivot County voting

Last month, we looked at voting patterns in Georgia’s Pivot and Reverse-Pivot counties. Here’s how they voted in the Senate runoffs compared to the Senate races in November based on unofficial results available Thursday morning. Republican candidates won all Pivot Counties, and Democratic candidates won all Reverse-Pivot Counties. Below, we’re focusing on differences in the number of votes between November and January in each county.

Georgia’s five Pivot Counties voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012, then Donald Trump (R) in 2016. All five voted for Trump again in 2020. 

Georgia’s three Reverse-Pivot Counties voted for John McCain (R) in 2008 and Mitt Romney (R) in 2012 and then for Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016. All three supported Biden (D) in 2020.

The middle two columns show vote totals from the runoff election. The difference between runoff votes and general election votes are in parentheses. For example: Ossoff received 624 votes in Baker County in the runoff. That was 24 fewer votes than he received in the county in November.

The column on the right shows the difference between votes lost per county. Colors show which party lost fewer votes. For example, in Baker County, Ossoff lost 39 fewer votes than Perdue.



Warnock wins Georgia’s U.S. Senate special election runoff, outcome of regular election runoff not yet determined

As of 8:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 6, one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoff elections had been called. Raphael Warnock (D) was projected as the winner of the special runoff election with 50.6% of the vote to incumbent Kelly Loeffler’s (R) 49.4%, according to unofficial results available as of Wednesday morning. 

In the regular election, Jon Ossoff (D) led David Perdue (R) 50.2% to 49.8%. Ballotpedia will not project a winner until there is a consensus projection made by a pool of five national news outlets: ABC, CNN, FOX, NBC, and NYT. None of the outlets had called the election as of 8:30 a.m. ET Wednesday. 

With Warnock’s win, the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate will have 49 members, while there are 50 Republicans in the chamber. If Perdue wins re-election, Republicans will maintain their Senate majority with 51 members. If Ossoff wins, Democrats will split the chamber 50-50 and Kamala Harris (D) will cast tie-breaking votes.

Perdue was elected to the Senate in 2014, and his term ended Jan. 3. His seat will remain vacant until the runoff election results are certified. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Loeffler after Johnny Isakson (R) resigned at the end of 2019 for health reasons. Warnock will serve the remaining two years of the term Isakson won in 2016.

Republicans framed the fight over Senate control as a fight against socialism in America. Democrats said the incoming Biden administration needs a Democratic Senate majority to make progress on healthcare and pandemic recovery.

Warnock will be the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia. Georgia’s last Democratic senator, Zell Miller, left office in 2005. 

Joe Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Georgia since Bill Clinton did so in 1992. 

Additional reading:



Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoff elections too close to call as of midnight on Jan. 6

Voters in Georgia decided runoffs in two U.S. Senate elections on Jan. 5. As of 12 a.m. EST Wednesday, both races were considered too close to call. In the regular election, Sen. David Perdue (R) led Jon Ossoff (D) by fewer than 2,000 votes, with both candidates receiving 50.0% of the vote. In the state’s special election, Raphael Warnock (D) led Kelly Loeffler (R), 50.4%-49.6%.

Ballotpedia will not project a winner for these elections until there is a consensus projection made by a pool of five national news outlets: ABC, CNN, FOX, NBC, and the New York Times. None of the five outlets had called either election as of 12 a.m. EST Wednesday. 

If Democrats win both runoffs, there will be a 50-50 tie between Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Senate, and Kamala Harris (D) would cast tie-breaking votes. If Republicans win one or both runoffs, they would maintain their majority.

The winners will be sworn in once results are certified. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has until Jan. 22 to certify statewide results. Perdue’s term ended on Jan. 3. The seat he held will be vacant until results are certified. Loeffler was appointed to temporarily serve the term Johnny Isakson (R) won, which ends in January 2023. Loeffler will remain a Senator until the results are certified, and whoever wins the race will complete the term.

In Georgia, a candidate may request a recount within two business days of when results are certified if the margin between the candidates is less than or equal to 0.5%. Additionally, an election official may order a recount if it appears there is a discrepancy or error in the returns.

Additional reading:

https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Senate_special_election_in_Georgia,_2020_(Loeffler_vs._Warnock_runoff)

https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Senate_election_in_Georgia,_2020_(Perdue_vs._Ossoff_runoff)