Runoff elections might be eliminated in Georgia after they brought three straight U.S. Senate victories for Democrats and long lines during early voting.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday that the General Assembly should pass a bill to scuttle future runoffs in Georgia, a rare state that still sends elections into overtime when no candidate wins a majority in the first round of voting.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock won a full term against Republican Herschel Walker in a runoff last week after the senator led a three-candidate race in the initial general election. Two years ago, Warnock and Democrat Jon Ossoff also won runoffs to give Democrats a majority in the Senate, though Republican candidates had historically been victorious in previous runoffs.
“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” Raffensperger said. “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.”
Raffensperger’s call to cancel runoffs comes after lawmakers last year required runoffs to occur four weeks after general elections instead of nine, resulting in just one week of early voting and lines that exceeded two hours in some areas.
While every other state finished federal elections on Nov. 8, the nation waited another month before Georgians went to the polls for the final time this year.
Almost every other state settles races on Election Day, with the leading candidate winning even if they fall short of 50% of votes. Besides Georgia, only Louisiana requires a runoff after a general election when no candidate wins a majority, and Mississippi will begin holding runoffs as soon as next year.
Raffensperger didn’t say exactly how the Republican-led General Assembly should change state law so that races are decided without runoffs.
Options include awarding the victory to whichever candidate wins a plurality of votes, or instituting a system called instant-runoff voting, in which voters pick their second-choice candidates upfront in the general election, avoiding the need for a second election.
Libertarian Chase Oliver, who forced the runoff by earning 2% of the vote for U.S. Senate in last month’s general election, said Georgia should skip runoffs by starting instant-runoff voting.
“The answer is to pass legislation for instant runoffs, also called ranked-choice voting,” Oliver said. “It gives us the ability to elect people with over 50% support and also save the time and money of a runoff.”
Georgia last year introduced instant-runoff voting for members of the military and overseas voters. Georgia is one of six states with instant runoffs for military and overseas voters, along with Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Clark has proposed that Georgia keep runoffs but allow another week for early voting by holding runoffs six weeks after the general election instead of four. She recently filed House Bill 2 to seek the change.
“The bill will address the shortened timeline for the election that led to various issues with voters receiving their absentee ballots in time, extremely long lines and many people not having the option for weekend voting,” said Clark, who represents Lilburn.
A study by researchers at Kennesaw State University recently found that the U.S. Senate runoffs two years ago cost Georgia taxpayers $75 million two years ago. This year’s runoff cost many millions more, including over $10 million in metro Atlanta’s core counties of Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly, including incoming House Speaker Jon Burns and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, haven’t voiced their preferences about legislation that could change Georgia’s runoffs. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp also hasn’t weighed in.
The topic will be considered during next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.
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