Never before in history have U.S. voters showed up to an election like they did last month. Preliminary data is already reporting that voter turnout was around 67 percent, the highest in at least 120 years, in large part thanks to Millennials and Gen Zers. Somewhere between 52 and 56 percent of those under the age of 29 voted in November, a record-breaking number. And while you may be exhausted from registering, phone banking, and the elongated election week that followed November 3rd, the fight is not over quite yet. On Tuesday, January 5th, the voters of Georgia will head back to the polls for a local election—the results, however, will be felt by the entire country.
In Georgia, a candidate must earn a majority of the vote in order to win an election. If that doesn’t happen, the top two candidates advance to a special election known as a runoff where they go head to head, ensuring one will undoubtedly receive over 50 percent of the ballots cast. This was the case with both of the senatorial elections last month, which is why Democratic nominees Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, as well as Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, are back on the campaign trail in preparation for January 5th. The outcome will not only determine who will represent the state for the next six years, but also which political party will have the Senate majority.
While the President is the one sitting in the Oval Office, his cabinet appointments, bill proposals, and more must pass through the Senate in order to become a reality. A Senate that is inline politically with the White House makes for an easier time passing legislation, like a possible coronavirus aid bill or a federal minimum wage increase. This means, many Democrats are hoping for a blue sweep in Georgia on January 5th so Biden will have an easier time working through his agenda over the next few years. Alternatively, if the Republican candidates win one or both of the elections in Georgia, they will hold onto the Senate majority. This could create a more bipartisan government, but it may also make it more difficult for Biden to enact many of the policies he ran on, like those related to gun control and climate change.
“We already voted for change, but if we really want it to happen, we need to vote again,” said Edward Aguilar, a 17-year-old CEO and co-founder of Students for Tomorrow, an organization working toward a more youth-represented government. “We elected Joe Biden, that was the first part of the mission, but if we want to finish it, if we want to get the job done, we need to go vote for it again. If people don’t show up in the same numbers they did before, then all the voting we just did, all the historic changes and barriers we just crossed would mean nothing. All Biden would be is a figure head while the rest of government is effectively in lockdown for another four years.”
While all eligible voters in Georgia are important to the senate candidates, it’s the youth—who have already proven to be extremely civic-minded—that everyone has their eyes on. Between November 4, 2020 and January 5, 2021, about 23,000 seventeen-year-olds in Georgia will turn 18. Meaning 23,000 individuals who were not eligible to vote in the national elections on November 3rd will be able to make their voices heard in the runoffs.
“Young voters helped turn Georgia blue, and Fair Fight will be working to ensure they have the resources to do it again on January 5,” said Stacey Abrams, former Georgia House Democratic Leader and founder of Fair Fight, in a statement to Seventeen. For the first time in decades, young people are mobilizing in large numbers and proving they have the power to sway elections.
“The youth vote is kind of like this dormant dragon that hasn’t been woken up since the 1972 election when youth voter turnout was around 50%,” said Aguilar. Of course, following the results of the 2020 presidential election, it’s clear that the dragon has officially awakened and the youth vote can no longer be ignored. Now, for those 23,000 newly-minted 18-year-olds, this will not only be their first chance to vote in a cycle they thought they had to sit out on, but also to have a hand in a history-making decision.
Charlotte Ackerman was only 17 when the initial Senate and presidential elections took place on November 3rd, so she didn’t think she’d get a chance to have her voice heard in an election this year. “To say I was disappointed about missing out on the 2020 election would be an understatement,” she said. Thanks to her December 30th birthday, however, Ackerman will be able to vote in the runoffs and while she has an idea of who she’s voting for, she admitted her decision “is definitely not set in stone just yet.” That makes her vote one of the many that advocates and candidates are now clamoring to obtain.
In order to secure those votes, Ossoff, the Democratic candidate running against Republican incumbent senator Perdue, headed out on a multi-city tour around the state following the November 3rd election. The trail started in Atlanta and ended in Athens, home to the University of Georgia’s main campus, a hotbed for young voters. Ossoff even met with teens on their home turf by launching a TikTok earlier this month, using the popular “A Moment Apart” trend to emphasize the importance of the Georgia senatorial election.
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“I’ve been through this with my team 1,000 ways,” Ossoff said at a rally in Kennesaw, home to Kennesaw State University, on December 3rd. “And the bottom line is this: Victory in Georgia comes down to young people.”
Reverend Warnock is just as focused on the young voters as his democratic colleague. “This election is an inflection point in all of our lives, but it is the young people who need to be covered by their parents’ health insurance until 26, and who will inherit the earth from our generation, that have the most at stake,” he said in a statement to Seventeen. “We need every person in Georgia to get engaged, and that’s especially true for young people.”
Usually, runoffs have a drop-off in participation, attracting 20 to 30% fewer voters than the original election. Considering 1.2 million absentee ballots have already been requested and the record-breaking voter turnout Georgia saw during last month’s election, though, it’s looking like these runoffs will be the most attended in the state’s history. Still, it’s going to be a close one. In November, Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes. It is clear these senatorial races will be just as tight, so every one of those votes will matter immensely. It really could come down to just 23,000 votes.
Head to peachvote.com for resources on how and where to vote. You can request an absentee until January 1st and begin voting early on December 14th.
Seventeen reached out to the campaigns of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.