Nonprofits and the Georgia Runoff Elections


Tim Mooney


For most Americans, the 2020 election is over and it’s time to move on to closing out a chaotic and challenging campaign season. However, voters in Georgia face two additional elections before they can turn the page, including early December runoffs for several state and local offices, and a January runoff for both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.

State rules in Georgia require runoffs between the top two vote-getters if the winner of a general election fails to reach 50% of the total vote. Neither of the winners in Georgia’s two US Senate races reached that threshold, so Georgians will be treated to a holiday season with Senate campaign ads mixed in with car commercials featuring unusually sized red ribbons tied to the hoods of luxury cars. The stakes are high, as the results of the elections will determine the outcome of Senate control in 2021.

Nonprofits played a critical role in the general election, particularly in voter registration, voter protection and get-out-the-vote efforts. Nonpartisan efforts by state-based groups like Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Shift, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, and Spelman College Student Government Association plus partisan efforts by 501(c)(4)s like Fair Fight contributed to record breaking vote totals in Georgia. Their work, along with other nonprofits, will continue into the runoffs.

Special Elections, Same Rules

Although the runoff elections scheduled for December 1st and January 5th are separately administered from the November general election, the rules remain the same. Public charities and private foundations are prohibited from supporting or opposing any of the four candidates, while non-501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to take a stance, as long as they comply with tax law limits on overall partisan activity and federal election law on the content of their efforts. For more, see the Bolder Advocacy publications The Rules of the Game and The Connection.

Public charities and private foundations should be particularly careful in this timeframe to avoid tying policy agendas to the special elections. For instance, 501(c)(3) conservation organizations should not suggest their efforts to combat climate change or water pollution will be strengthened if certain candidates or members of particular parties are elected. Similarly, they should avoid using partisan phrases like “blue wave” or “stop the steal” or they risk the possibility of IRS enforcement. Non-501(c)(3) organizations are free to engage in that work, subject to compliance with the laws noted above.

Important Dates to Know

Because this is technically a separate election, nonprofits can register voters, get them to the polls, and encourage voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot. The deadlines are:

November 18, 2020 – earliest day absentee ballots for the US Senate runoffs can go to voters
December 1, 2020 – runoffs for other Georgia state and local races, including selected state senate, county executive and district attorney positions throughout the state
December 7, 2020 – registration deadline for the US Senate runoff elections (for those not previously registered)
December 14, 2020 – early in-person voting begins for US Senate runoff elections
January 5, 2021 – Election Day for US Senate runoffs

Voters intending to cast absentee ballots will need to request their ballot again for this election. Young voters who turn 18 by January 5, 2021, can register by December 7 and cast their ballots in the runoff.