AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Georgia’s primary runoffs

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A southwest Georgia Republican who served a brief federal prison sentence for his actions inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is among those running on Tuesday for a chance to serve in Congress when the state holds primary runoff elections in a handful of U.S. House and state legislative races.

The contests will determine who will challenge two U.S. House members from opposite ends of Georgia’s political spectrum: 16-term Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop and two-term Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Republican race in Bishop’s 2nd Congressional District is the latest example of someone convicted of a crime on Jan. 6 seeking to return to the Capitol as a member of Congress.

Bishop’s Republican general election opponent will be either Chuck Hand, a construction superintendent who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally demonstrating inside the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, or Wayne Johnson, a former U.S. Department of Education official in the Trump administration. Johnson placed first in the May 21 Republican primary with about 45% of the vote, short of the majority vote needed to avoid Tuesday’s runoff. Hand received 32% of the vote.

The third-place candidate, Michael Nixon, received about 19% of the vote and held a press conference in late May endorsing Johnson, while offering a blistering rebuke against Hand. In response, Hand walked off the stage in the middle of a televised June 9 debate with Johnson, whom he accused of orchestrating the attacks by Nixon. The 2nd District is among the state’s Democratic enclaves. Voters there supported Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the last two presidential elections with about 54% and 55% of the vote, respectively. Sanford won his 2022 reelection bid with 55% of the vote.

In the 3rd Congressional District, former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan and former White House political director Brian Jack are running to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson. Jack has the endorsement of his former boss Donald Trump and was the top vote-getter in the May 21 primary with about 47% of the vote. Dugan received about 25% of the vote, with the remaining vote split among three candidates. The winner will face Democrat Maura Keller, an Army veteran. Ferguson won the seat in 2022 with about 69% of the vote.

The Democrats vying to challenge Greene in the 14th Congressional District are Clarence Blalock, a former City of Smyrna employee and 2021 Atlanta City Council candidate, and Shawn Harris, a retired Army brigadier general and rancher. Blalock edged Harris in the primary by just 128 votes out of more than 18,000 cast. Greene won reelection in 2022 with about 66% of the vote.

Also facing runoffs are candidates in four state Senate and four state House districts. The only incumbent on Tuesday’s ballot is Republican state Rep. Steven Sainz in House District 180. Sainz received 49.7% of the primary vote, falling just short of avoiding a runoff. His opponent is Glenn Cook, a Navy veteran and airline pilot.

All 56 state Senate and 180 state House seats are up for election in November. Republicans have comfortable majorities in both chambers.

Runoff elections in Georgia used to be held nine weeks after the primary, but a sweeping election law enacted in 2021 shortened the period to four weeks.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY RUNOFF DAY

Georgia’s state primary runoff elections will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 7 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide vote results and declare winners in 11 runoffs: three contested primaries for U.S. House and four each for state Senate and state House.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Registered voters may participate in their district’s partisan runoff election if: They voted in the same party’s primary on May 21, they voted only in the nonpartisan primary, or they did not vote in the primary. In other words, Republican primary voters can’t vote in a Democratic runoff or vice versa.

DECISION NOTES

Runoffs tend to be lower-turnout events than the initial elections that prompted them. This could slow the race-calling process for a competitive contest, especially in smaller state legislative districts. In these cases, determining the outcome could rest on a small handful of ballots that have yet to be tabulated.

Turnout in primaries and runoffs for the party out of power in safe Democratic or Republican districts also tends to be low, which could mean determining the winners in the 2nd and 14th Congressional District primaries could also come down to relatively few votes.

In the 3rd Congressional District Republican runoff, Jack came close to winning the nomination outright in the May 21 primary, and his endorsement from Trump should be an asset in winning over some district residents who voted for neither him nor Dugan. Trump won this area with 66% of the vote in 2016 and 64% in 2020.

In the May 21 primary, Jack carried 14 of the district’s 15 counties, including nine with outright vote majorities. To win the runoff, Dugan would need to far outperform the 52% he received in his home county of Carroll to offset Jack’s advantage elsewhere in the district.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

There is no automatic recount provision in Georgia, but a losing candidate may request a recount if the margin is less than or equal to 0.5% of the total vote. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of June 7, there were just more than 8 million registered voters in Georgia. Voters in Georgia do not register by party.

About 1.3 million voters participated in the May 21 primary, or about 16% of all registered voters. About 44% of ballots were cast before primary day.

As of Thursday, a total of 3,012 pre-Election Day ballots had been cast in the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary, 8,375 in the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary and 2,213 in the 14th Congressional District Democratic primary. A combined total of 4,658 pre-Election Day ballots had been cast in the three Democratic state Senate runoffs and 331 in the Republican state Senate runoff in District 7. In the state House runoffs, 553 pre-Election Day ballots had been cast in the two Democratic runoffs, most of them in House District 145, and 1,779 in the two Republican runoffs, mostly in House District 180.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE-COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the May 21 primary, the AP first reported results at 7:02 p.m. ET, or two minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 3:13 a.m. ET with about 99% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 140 days until the November general election.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

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