2022 midterms

Georgia Republicans Are Fed Up With General-Election Runoffs

Brad Raffensperger says it’s time to call off the election-overtime party. Photo: Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shuttersto/ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shuttersto

Georgia’s unique system of general-election runoffs has its roots in a racist determination to marginalize Black voters, but a Black U.S. Senator appears to have blown it all up. Following a second straight cycle in which Democrats won overtime Senate runoffs in Georgia (with Raphael Warnock winning for a second time), Republicans in the state seem to have concluded that these contests don’t give them the advantage they’d held in an earlier era. So the costs and sheer weirdness of a system wherein Warnock’s 49.4 percent of the vote on Election Day wasn’t sufficient are becoming apparent to everyone.

The opening bell of a debate on revising the state law requiring general-election runoffs was sounded by Georgia’s Republican elections chief, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He issued a statement on Wednesday urging the GOP-controlled legislature to end it all:

Recognizing that some legislators might be reluctant to toss out runoffs entirely, Raffensperger previously told the New York Times that he would lay out options other than just eliminating overtime:

Mr. Raffensperger said he would present three proposals to lawmakers. They include forcing large counties to open more early-voting locations to reduce hourslong lines like the ones that formed at many Metro Atlanta sites last week; lowering the threshold candidates must achieve to avoid a runoff to 45 percent from 50 percent; and instituting a ranked-choice instant-runoff system that would not require voters to come back to the polls again after the general election.

Spending more money on election administration is never going to be popular among politicians (especially Republicans who aren’t concerned about long lines specifically or voting rights in general), and ranked-choice voting is typically disliked by partisans of every persuasion (though Republicans like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump have been particularly hostile to that reform). And in a state with no real tradition of strong third parties, you might as well abolish runoffs if you’re going to lower the runoff threshold significantly.

It’s notable (if not surprising) that Raffensperger is not talking about abolishing primary runoffs — a tradition that Georgia shares with nine other mostly southern states. This practice has lost much of its unsavory racist reputation now that Black Democrats in Georgia and several other southern states have the numbers to routinely control primaries. In 2022, both Warnock and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams won their primaries without opposition.

If legislators do get rid of Georgia’s general-election runoffs, the unhappiest people will be campaign operatives who can’t count on an extra paycheck after Election Day and local-TV stations that won’t get all the extra ad revenue. But for election workers, candidates, donors, and yes, even journalists, going back to decisive November elections will be a relief, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Patricia Murphy observed:

Covering the overtime drama of a runoff election in Georgia is its own kind of punishment for journalists, like watching Groundhog Day over and over, but with candidate attack ads on repeat.

I can only imagine the same (and more) could be said of what it’s like to be a candidate in a runoff in Georgia. You won! No, you didn’t. You lost! Now raise some more money and try again.

Maybe not next time around.

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Georgia Republicans Are Fed Up With General-Election Runoffs