College Students Play Critical Role in Georgia Senate Races

College Students Play Critical Role in Georgia Senate Races
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on December 11, 2020

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Big questions for college students — like whether college will get more affordable and whether they'll see any debt relief — hinge on January's election results. In addition to Joe Biden's inauguration as the next president, next month will determine whether Georgia will be represented by Republicans or Democrats in the Senate, and which party will dominate the Senate as a result.

In the November election, no candidate in Georgia's two Senate races earned 50% or more of the vote, triggering a runoff election per state law. On January 5, the incumbent Republican senator, David Perdue, will again compete against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, while appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler will defend her office against the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat.

Should Georgia elect even one Republican senator, Republicans will control the majority of seats in the Senate.

The November election results showed Perdue winning by a narrow 2% margin, and Warnock leading by a 7% margin.

Should Georgia elect even one Republican senator, Republicans will control the majority of seats in the Senate. As a result, much-hyped pieces of education legislation could flounder. If the state votes blue, though, the Senate will be evenly divided between the two parties, giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

With a Democratic administration and Senate, far-reaching proposals, such as 100% subsidized college tuition, could soon become a reality. Both Biden and Harris support versions of free college and student debt forgiveness.

Georgia College Students Could Sway Runoff Election

Youth voters had the power to influence election outcomes in dozens of states this year. In some jurisdictions, the number of voting-eligible students exceeded the margin of victory. Political organizations tapped into this power with massive voting campaigns targeted at youths. And in Georgia, those efforts didn't wind down after election day — they ramped up.

College groups, voting nonprofits, and high school political organizations are enlisting thousands of students to vote in Georgia's January runoffs. In addition to galvanizing registered voters, activists are working to ensure that every youth who can vote does vote. Over 20,000 Georgia teens who were ineligible to vote in the general election will celebrate their 18th birthdays in time to participate in the runoffs.

One of the most powerful bipartisan organizations at work in the Georgia runoff arena, StudentsFor2020 is mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to not only help register new voters but also talk young Republicans into voting Democrat. Even college students outside of Georgia are getting in on the action: University of Maryland students are phone-banking for the runoff Senate election.

Stimulating the youth vote is a particularly Democratic enterprise. Since most college students lean left, Democratic policies have sought to ease the voting process for young people.

College groups, voting nonprofits, and high school political organizations are enlisting thousands of students to vote in Georgia’s January runoffs.

Meanwhile, Republican policies have worked to limit voting options for college students, especially out-of-state students. Most out-of-state college students can choose to vote either in their home state or the state in which they attend school, provided they have an address in both areas. But registering in one state instead of another changes more than just the local elections that appear on your ballot.

For students who hail from swing states like Georgia, voting absentee can have an even bigger influence on election results. Registering to vote with swing-state impact in mind constitutes a sort of reverse gerrymandering.

In order to prevent students from strategizing to extend the "blue wave," some Republican leaders have tightened state residency and ID requirements, purged voter lists, and closed campus polling places. Many Democrats say these measures amount to voter suppression.

But this year, it's not just state-specific voting laws that are working against the student vote — the pandemic has introduced new hurdles as well. With closed campuses and campus polling booths narrowing students' options, many young people in Georgia report feeling uncomfortable voting by mail.

Voting Info for Georgia College Students

Georgia Runoff Election Timeline

November 18, 2020: Absentee ballots can be requested starting on this date

December 7, 2020: Voter registration deadline

December 14, 2020: Early voting begins

January 5, 2021: Senate runoff election day

Georgia Voting Eligibility Requirements

Be a U.S. citizen Be a legal resident of a Georgia county (college students who are attending school in a different state can use their permanent home address to prove Georgia residency) Be at least 18 years old by election day Not be serving a sentence for conviction of a felony Have not been found mentally incompetent by a judge

Georgia Voting Tips and Reminders

Register to vote online using an acceptable form of identification, such as a Georgia driver's license (even if expired), a state or federal government employee photo ID, a valid U.S. passport, a valid U.S. military photo ID, or a valid tribal photo ID.

Request an absentee (mail-in) ballot as soon as possible. You can submit your application online, by mail or fax, or in person. Note that you don't need to provide any specific reason for voting absentee.

If you're voting absentee, submit your ballot well before election day. Georgia law stipulates that all absentee ballots must be received by election day, so don't wait until the last minute to send yours out. A better option is to put your ballot in a local drop-off box.

Confirm that your absentee ballot has been counted. You can check the status of your vote at any time by logging in on the Georgia My Voter page.

Don't forget to bring a valid photo ID if you plan to vote in person on election day.

Urgency Around Runoff Prompts Fears of Voter Fraud

The organizations pushing to register new Georgia voters are casting a wide net, but some state lawmakers worry this net may be too wide.

Urging voters to temporarily relocate to Georgia in order to vote in the runoffs, for example, violates election law. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reminds out-of-staters that such a tactic constitutes a felony and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Georgia is currently investigating over 250 cases of election law violations.

Raffensperger's office is currently investigating over 250 cases of illegal voting and election law violations. Many of these alleged crimes are being perpetrated not by individuals, but by get-out-the-vote organizations.

America Votes sent absentee ballots to addresses where people hadn't lived for more than two decades, while Vote Forward attempted to register a dead woman from Alabama. And Operation New Voter Registration Georgia told college students they can register to vote in Georgia just for the runoff — and then change back to their permanent addresses.

Despite these investigations, widespread voter fraud remains rare. It's also unlikely that any of these actions would impact the results of the Senate runoff.

While Dems Encourage Voters, GOP Sends Mixed Signals

As Democratic organizations in Georgia work to drum up votes, a schism on the Republican side threatens to reduce the conservative voter turnout. Spurred on by suspicions of voter fraud, local attorney Lin Wood is urging Georgia Republicans to boycott the runoff elections.

But President Donald Trump and high-profile Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, oppose Wood's suggestion. The election is considered a must-win by both parties, and Republicans fear Wood's words may alienate conservative-leaning voters.

In any case, youth voters are likely to turn out in droves this January. College students stand to have a large influence on the runoff elections and be among those most impacted by its results.

If Democrats scoop Georgia's two Senate seats, higher education in the U.S. may never be the same. But if Republicans maintain one or both seats, some of Biden's big plans for education could fall to the wayside.

Voter Registration Tools

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Get Your Absentee Ballot (Also Called Vote-By-Mail)
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Local Election Office Directory
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Feature Image: Jessica McGowan / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America

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