What happens if the Georgia Senate runoff is contested?

Fear not, at least one Senator will continue

Sen. Kelly Loeffler is in a tight runoff with Rev. Raphael Warnock. According to FiveThirtyEight, Warnock leads by a couple of points. However, if you go by the “jungle primary” results in the general election, Loeffler should be leading by double digits. If you add both hers and GOP challenger Doug Collins together, she has more than enough Republican voter support to win.

As we know, this is a very uncertain time for elections. The runoff is likely to have lots of mail-in ballots, and given the closeness of the race, it could be contested, along with the simultaneous runoff between Sen. David Perdue and Jon Ossoff (who? — hey did you see the debate where an empty chair debated an empty chair?).

If Warnock and Ossoff both win, the Senate will be divided 50-50, and Kamala Harris will have the deciding vote. If either seat is retained by the incumbent, Republicans will retain the narrowest of majorities and Mitch McConnell keeps his position.

So, what happens if the senate race is contested? Will Georgia have no senators? Who will control the upper chamber?

Fear not. If the election results drag on, Sen. Loeffler will continue in the Senate, because she is filling the seat of retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, and that term does not end until 2023.

Georgia law provides for a replacement when a Senator retires or leaves office early. And until the results of the next special election are known and certified, the governor’s appointment continues to serve.

O.C.G.A. § 21-2-542

Whenever a vacancy shall occur in the representation of this state in the Senate of the United States, such vacancy shall be filled for the unexpired term by the vote of the electors of the state at a special election to be held at the time of the next November state-wide general election, occurring at least 40 days after the occurrence of such vacancy; and it shall be the duty of the Governor to issue his or her proclamation for such election. Until such time as the vacancy shall be filled by an election as provided in this Code section, the Governor may make a temporary appointment to fill such vacancy.

If both runoff elections are contested, David Perdue will lose in the game of musical chairs, and Georgia will have one Senator, putting the Senate at 51-48, and it won’t matter what happens to Perdue’s seat after that. If only Loeffler’s race is contested, then she continues to serve, and the Senate is 52-48, and then back to 51-48 if Warnock wins.

The only way the Senate can go to 50-50 is if both Republican incumbents lose, and clearly enough that the race is not contested. That’s the unlikeliest outcome at this point.

No matter how ugly things get, the Senate must seat Kelly Loeffler until she loses. As to how ugly it will get, I don’t even want to speculate.