Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pushes for end of general election runoffs
Georgia's Dec. 6 runoff election, which saw U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock's victory against former University of Georgia football player Herschel Walker drew ire on both sides of the aisle.
Complaints by politicians and voters included the racist history of the process, long lines at the polls and a reduced early voting period allowed by Georgia's latest voting law, Senate Bill 202, which spawned a successful lawsuit filed by Warnock's campaign to petition for Saturday voting.
So it wasn't a complete surprise when Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released a statement this morning calling on the Georgia legislature to end runoffs in the state, one of only a few that still allow the practice.
Gabriel Sterling from the Georgia Secretary of State's office told GPB's Peter Biello this week he was "agnostic" about a change in the longstanding runoff rule. "I am not elected [or] a state legislator. It is 100% up to them."
The current iteration of runoff elections were implemented by segregationist white Democrats in the state legislature in the 1960s as a way to prevent Black voters from electing the candidate of their choice after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the county unit system, a sort of statewide electoral college that gave rural white counties more weight than urban, Blacker counties.
In the early 1990s, after Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler lost in a runoff, lawmakers lowered the threshold from 50% to 45% to win without going into an overtime election. Four years later, Democratic Sen. Max Cleland won with 48.9% of the vote and Republicans changed the cutoff back to 50% when they controlled the legislature in 2005.
In 2022, Raffensperger is not alone in urging lawmakers at the 2023 Georgia General Assembly session to legislate in favor of wiping runoffs off the map. As voting in Georgia once again stretched into the holiday season for the high-profile runoff this month, an ad from a nonpartisan group asked Georgians to consider ditching them once and for all.
The ad contained a scene that played out in living rooms all across Georgia: holiday cheer interrupted by nasty attack ads for yet another runoff election.
"This should have been over by now... there has to be a better way..." the commercial pled.
The group behind the spot, Better Ballot Georgia, is lobbying the Georgia legislature to consider instant runoff voting, in which voters rank their choices and a winner is declared by adding in the second choice for the last-place candidate, and so on, until someone gets a majority.
“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” Raffensperger said similarly in his statement. “It’s even tougher on the counties who had a difficult time completing all of their deadlines, an election audit and executing a runoff in a four-week time period.”
Georgia's 2022 midterms shattered previous turnout records. Eliminating runoffs would end costly second elections with lower turnout, which is something many voters might agree upon.