Georgia’s top election official urged lawmakers Wednesday to endThe bitter Senate contest this month was the latest example, but he offered no specific proposals, saying there is a “wide range of options.”
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s push to scrap the unusual format for the general election comes after high-profile Senate races dragged on this year and into 2020, with Democrats winning each time. Democrat Raphael Warnock has won two runoffs, including his own.about Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Warnock’s victory secures his first six-year term in the Senate to 51 seats.
Raffensperger said in a statement that Georgia is “one of the few states that always seems to have a runoff” and that the legislature should “consider reforms.” Georgia is one of four states that have general election runoffs, though only Georgia and Louisiana use them for all races. Nine states hold primary runoffs, though the rules vary.
Georgia lawmakers said possible options include lowering the threshold for winning an election to a 45% plurality or using voter-sorted ballots, as other states do, to designate additional options beyond the first candidate, which which allows for an instant second round.
Under current Georgia law, if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in a primary or general election, the top two finishers advance to a runoff.
In most states, the candidate who gets the most votes, even if well short of a majority, wins a party primary or general election. But most southern states require primary runoffs, a consequence of a time when white supremacist Democrats were in the overwhelming majority and sought to consolidate support behind a candidate to avoid general election divisions that could threaten their government.
Georgia went a step further in the 1960s and also required a runoff for the general election, a move the sponsor said was aimed at bolstering white rule. One of the main proponents of the 1964 law that established the system, state representative Denmark Groover, said that he intended “to prevent the black bloc vote from controlling the elections.”
Although legislation was introduced in the 1980s to repeal the majority vote requirement in favor of a plurality system, those efforts were unsuccessful. The Justice Department separately attempted to challenge Georgia’s voting requirement through a lawsuit filed in 1990 under the Voting Rights Act. John Dunne, then assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the practice has a “demonstrably chilling effect on the ability of blacks to become candidates for public office.”
Raffensperger’s spokesman said the secretary of state was not available for interviews this week and it was up to lawmakers to decide on any changes. Raffensperger is not proposing to change the runoff requirement after party primaries.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who will preside over the state Senate, and representatives from the state Republican and Democratic parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. High turnover among General Assembly leaders is expected to mean a slow start to legislating and possibly limited appetite for big changes in the session that begins Jan. 9.
State Rep. Alan Powell, a Republican who has been vice chair of the House Election Integrity Task Force, said he would not support changes that allow people to win elections with less than a majority.
“As a philosophical point, if you’re going to have an elected person representing you, you need to have at least 50 plus 1% of the voters to ratify your choices,” Powell said Wednesday.
But Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent said she had heard discussion about lowering the threshold to prevent a runoff of the current majority to a 45% requirement. Parent said she would be in favor of at least an instant runoff test because runoffs in many local elections have very low turnout, which she says is a “very undemocratic” way of determining elections.
State Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat, said she would be “surprised if we didn’t see various versions of plurality or instant runoff proposals.”
Powell said ranked-choice voting was discussed in 2021 when Georgia revised its election law, but it only garnered support from overseas voters as a way to cut runoff time from nine weeks to four weeks.
With no one reaching the 50% threshold in either US Senate race two years ago, the runoff took place nine weeks later on January 5, 2021. Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff defeated Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. respectively.
Changes to a 2021 election law meant that the last day of voting in this year’s runoff election was just four weeks after the general election. That shortened runoff period presented a challenge for county election officials, particularly with the Thanksgiving holiday in the middle.