Ga. elections chief wants to end runoffs like the one we just had

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 11:28 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2022 at 5:29 PM EST
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - On the heels of a brutal statewide Senate runoff, Georgia’s elections chief is calling for elimination of general election runoffs.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Georgia is one of the only states in country with a general election runoff.

“We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff,” he said. “I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the general election runoff and consider reforms.”

State law requires someone to get 50 percent plus one vote in order to win an election. That leads to situations like the Dec. 6 runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker. Neither crossed the vote threshold to win the election in November due to third-party candidate Chase Oliver.

We asked our local election officials how they feel about eliminating general election runoffs.

“I think it would save Georgia a lot of time and money if they did away with the runoff election,” said Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Travis Doss. “The runoff in Richmond County costs us about $165,000, and that does come from poll worker pay, so when there is a runoff, we have to open up all 43 polling locations.”

The General Assembly convenes in January and could select from a wide range of options, Raffensperger said.

“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” he 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.”

Georgia’s 2022 midterms shattered previous turnout records and achieved a high level of access for Georgia voters. Some counties had as many as 19 days of early voting in the general election, and Georgia voters needed no excuse to vote early or by mail.

At least one Democratic lawmaker wants future general election runoffs to be extended. State Rep. Jasmine Clark from Lilburn plans to introduce legislation to extend runoffs from four to six weeks.

Clark said an extra week would help ease some of the long lines many polling places experienced during the Senate runoff.

Clark said she’s planning on introducing a bill to study the potential of a ranked-ballot system.

A ranked-choice option, also known as an instant runoff, asks voters to rank their preferred candidate in the case of a runoff on their general election ballot.

GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who will preside over the state Senate, and representatives of the state Republican and Democratic parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

State Rep. Alan Powell, a Republican who has been the vice chairman of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, said he would not support changes that would let people win elections with less than a majority.

“As a philosophical point, if you’re going to have an elected person represent you, they need to have at least 50 plus 1% of the voters to ratify their elections,” Powell said Wednesday.

But Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent said she had heard discussion about lowering the threshold to avoid a runoff from the current majority to a requirement of 45%. Parent said she would be in favor of at least a trial of instant runoffs because runoffs in many local elections have very low turnout, which she said is a “very undemocratic” way of determining elections.

State Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat, said she would be “shocked if we didn’t see several versions of plurality or instant runoff proposed.”

Powell said ranked choice voting was discussed in 2021 when Georgia overhauled its election law, but that it only won support for overseas voters as a way to cut the time for runoffs from nine weeks to four weeks.