ATLANTA — An effort that could lead eventually to the elimination of runoff elections in Georgia has surfaced in the General Assembly.

Georgia Rep. Joseph Gullett

Georgia Rep. Joseph Gullett

State Rep. Joseph Gullett, R-Dallas, introduced a bill into the Georgia House this week that would allow Georgia cities to experiment with instant runoff voting in nonpartisan municipal elections.

“This legislation promotes local control,” said Gullett.  “If passed, it gives cities the option to avoid the cost of expensive runoff elections while maintaining the principle of majority rule.

“Cities that don’t want it, don’t have to do it, and cities that try it and don’t like it, can go back to their original system. This bill provides flexibility and options, not mandates.”

Runoffs have drawn a number of critics in Georgia in recent years, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whose department oversees elections.

Besides the expense of holding an additional election, Raffensperger argued Georgians who vote in general elections in early November don’t want their Thanksgiving holidays interrupted by runoff campaigns and having to go back to the polls a second time.

Under an instant runoff voting system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins more than half of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.

At that point, voters who selected the defeated candidate as their top choice have those votes added to the totals of their next choice. The process continues until a candidate has amassed more than half of the votes.

Scott Turner, executive director of Eternal Vigilance Action, a Georgia group that supports instant runoffs, said the municipal opt-in would provide Georgians an opportunity to see how instant runoffs would work when there are multiple candidates in a race.

“Voters will quickly discover an easy-to-use system that’s better, cheaper and faster than the expensive, exhausting runoff elections we use now,” Turner said. “Recent polling has shown that Georgians want to change our runoff system, and this is a chance for legislators to creatively answer the call for reform.”

Georgia has experience using municipal elections to experiment with new voting processes. In 2001, then-Secretary of State Cathy Cox oversaw the use of touch-screen voting machines in Georgia for the first time during local elections in several cities scattered across the state. Touch-screen voting was adopted statewide the following year.

The instant runoff measure, House Bill 200, has picked up bipartisan support. Its House cosponsors include Republican Reps. Clay Pirkle of Ashburn and Victor Anderson of Cornelia, and Democratic Reps. Stacey Evans of Atlanta and Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.