Why were there two elections to choose John Lewis’ successor in Congress?

Georgia's 5th Congressional District arguably covers most of what people think when they say “Atlanta” — including portions of Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties. (Georgia Legislature)
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Georgia's 5th Congressional District arguably covers most of what people think when they say “Atlanta” — including portions of Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties. (Georgia Legislature)

Credit: Georgia Legislature

Georgia has a special election runoff Tuesday to choose an interim successor to Congressman John Lewis.

The winner will only serve a few weeks, until State Sen. Nikema Williams begins a full two-year term representing the district of Lewis.

When Lewis died in July, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp set a special election on Sept. 29 to fill the final months of Lewis’ term.

At the same time, Georgia Democrats chose state Sen. Nikema Williams to replace Lewis on the Nov. 3 ballot as the Democratic nominee for the 5th District term that begins in January. Williams defeated Republican Angela Stanton-King and will take office in January.

Williams did not run in the September special election. opting to focus on the general election. Former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall and former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin were the top contenders among seven candidates. Neither candidates won 50 percent of the vote, so a runoff election was set for Tuesday (Dec. 1). The winner will serve a few weeks until Williams takes office.

Had a single candidate won the September election, the interim congressman would have had about three months in office. The long period before the runoff is based in part on federal law. A nine-week runoff election for federal races is used in Georgia because federal law requires time for overseas voters to return ballots in federal elections, such as the U.S. Congress.

A second runoff election Tuesday is also related to all of this. A special election was needed Nov. 3 to succeed Nikema Williams in Georgia State Senate District 39. Four candidates were on the ballot, and two of them are in a runoff.

Return to AJC.com for election results after the polls close.

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