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Can You Move to Georgia Just to Vote on January 5?

Georgia - Georgia Highway sign - Illustration
By Richard Dahl on November 16, 2020

Thinking of moving to Georgia to vote in the two critically important Senate runoff elections there?

Some activists on social media have suggested establishing residence in the Peach State to vote.

The question is: How legal is that?

The answer is that it is indeed legal. But if you're contemplating a move to Georgia just to vote there, you'd better be serious about it.

First, time is running short. Under Georgia law, if you want to vote in the January 5 elections, you need to establish residence there by December 7.

Second, it can't be just residence. It has to be your primary residence.

Third, you can't set up a new home in Georgia, vote, and then pull up stakes again shortly thereafter. Georgia law is not clear on that point, but Enrijeta Shino, a University of North Florida political science professor who is knowledgeable about Georgia voting issues, told the Wall Street Journal, “These are sensitive issues, and election officials are going to pay attention to what is happening. People should be very careful about doing that."

Meanwhile, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr issued an advisory on November 11 reminding voters about their “rights and responsibilities" under Georgia law. The advisory includes links to state law on residency, which includes this requirement: “A person shall not be considered to have gained a residence in any county or municipality of this state into which such person has come for temporary purposes only without the intention of making such county or municipality such person's permanent place of abode."

Why Is Georgia Having Runoff Elections?

The races in question are (1) incumbent Republican David Perdue vs. Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, and (2) incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler vs. Democratic challenger the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock.

While Senate races are staggered so that a state's two seats are not up for reelection at the same time, the situation in Georgia this year is unusual. Perdue is in a normal reelection race for the seat he won in 2014, but Loeffler was appointed last year to replace Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired for health reasons. So the Loeffler-Warnock race is a special election to fill out the remainder of that term.

The reason both races have gone to a runoff is because under Georgia law, when no candidate wins 50% of the votes (the case this year), the top two candidates square off in a subsequent vote.

Much Is at Stake

Here is why the race is so important (and why people are talking about moving there to vote): Now that the general election is finished, the makeup of the Senate stands at 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If the Democrats manage to win both Georgia runoff races, that would mean a 50-50 split in the Senate. However, it really hands control to the Democrats because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have the power to break ties in that chamber.

The stakes are huge.

But so are the risks for anyone who might be thinking of trying to establish a temporary residence in Georgia just to vote.

As Attorney General Carr stated in his November 11 advisory, it is a felony “to attempt to vote knowing one does not possess the qualifications for voting in Georgia."

Be advised.

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