A general view of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, Nov. 10, 2020.
A general view of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, Nov. 10, 2020.

WASHINGTON - U.S. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska won reelection Wednesday, assuring Republicans of at least 50 seats in the 100-member Senate for the next two years, while leaving control of the chamber uncertain until two runoff elections are held in Georgia in early January.

After slow vote-counting in the northwestern-most state of the U.S. after the November 3 election, news media concluded that Sullivan had an insurmountable lead over Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who ran as an independent candidate with Democratic support. The contest was called with Sullivan, a conservative, ahead by 20 percentage points.

FILE - Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 7, 2020.

With Republicans assured of at least half the Senate seats, attention now turns to the two January 5 runoff elections in the southern state of Georgia.

Two conservative Republican lawmakers — Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — now hold the two seats, but both failed in separate contests last week to win a majority, forcing them into the runoffs.

Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist who narrowly lost a 2017 race for a seat in the House of Representatives before trying to oust Perdue from the Senate seat he has held since 2015.

FILE - Republican candidate for Senate Sen. David Perdue speaks at Peachtree Dekalb Airport in Atlanta, Nov. 2, 2020.
FILE - Democratic candidate for Senate Jon Ossoff points after a news conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 10, 2020.

Loeffler, who was appointed to her Senate seat in early 2020, is facing Raphael Warnock, a progressive Democrat who is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Warnock led a multi-candidate field in last week's voting, with Loeffler second, but he finished well short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. In their initial contest last week, Perdue narrowly led Ossoff, but a third candidate won enough votes to keep both Perdue and Ossoff from hitting 50%.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Sen. Kelly Loeffler gestures at a campaign rally in Marietta, Georgia, Nov. 11, 2020.
FILE - Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, speaks during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 3, 2020.

As it stands, Democrats will hold at least 48 seats in the Senate over the next two years, a net gain of one seat after losing one and gaining two in last week's voting.

If Republicans retain either of the Georgia seats or both, they will hold a majority in the Senate for the next two years. But if Ossoff and Warnock were both to win, there would be a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats.

In the case of a tie vote in the Senate, the decisive vote is cast by the vice president, in this case Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Democrats would thus be able to secure a majority on all the chamber's committees that consider legislation and approve the president's appointments to key government positions and judgeships on federal courts.

Such a legislative majority, if Democrats voted as a bloc, would give President-elect Joe Biden a chance to win approval for his legislative agenda on a host of issues.

But if Republicans retain control of the Senate, coupled with continued Democratic control of the House of Representatives that is already assured, the prospective Biden administration and fractious lawmakers likely would be forced into extensive negotiations over such contentious issues as taxes, immigration, health care and more. 

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.