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Georgia Republicans want to nix runoffs after losing three Senate races in a row

After his party’s candidates lost several runoffs, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has come out in support of eliminating or replacing them.

By Emily Singer - December 15, 2022
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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday called for the state to eliminate general election runoffs, saying they’re a nuisance for voters.

“I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the General Election Runoff and consider reforms,” Raffensperger said in a statement, adding, “No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday.”

Raffensperger’s call to end general election runoffs comes a week after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection via a runoff, giving him a full six-year term in the Senate. It was the third high-profile Senate runoff Republicans have lost in the state in the last two years. Warnock previously won a special election runoff on Jan. 5, 2021, and Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff ousted Sen. David Perdue in a runoff that same day.

If Republicans get rid of general election runoffs in Georgia, it would be the second time in as many years that the party changed voting rules in the state after they didn’t benefit from them.

In 2021, after Warnock and Ossoff’s victories in the state, Georgia Republicans passed a voter suppression law that shortened the runoff period from nine weeks down to four.

The change meant there would be less time to vote early and by mail, two methods that Democrats overwhelmingly use in the state.

David A. Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College, wrote in an analysis for Bloomberg News that Republicans shortened the runoff “in pursuit of partisan advantage.”

But shortening the runoff didn’t help Republicans, as Warnock defeated GOP nominee Herschel Walker by nearly 3 points, expanding on his 1-point advantage in the general election.

The New York Times reported that after the latest runoff results, Republicans in the state were “quietly cursing the runoff system.”

Historians note that general election runoffs in Georgia have racist roots.

The state adopted them in 1964 following a proposal from segregationist state Rep. Denmark Groover, who said in presenting the legislation that runoffs would “prevent the Negro bloc vote from controlling the elections.”

In 1990, after the United States filed a lawsuit challenging Georgia’s general election runoffs, Groover once again said his idea for the runoff was to dilute Black voters’ power.

“I was a segregationist. I was a county unit man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced, I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was,” Groover told federal investigators at the time.

What’s more, runoffs cost the state millions of dollars that could be used elsewhere.

It’s unclear how Republicans would change elections to remove general election runoffs, or if they’ll change them at all.

The New York Times reported that Raffensperger proposed ideas that included changing the general election to a ranked-choice instant-runoff system, in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference and do not need to vote in a second, entirely separate election. It’s a system supported by voting rights groups, including Fair Vote.

Raffensperger also proposed lowering the threshold a candidate needs to reach to avoid a runoff to 45% of the vote, down from 50%, as well as mandating that counties have more early voting locations during general election runoff contests.

They are ideas that Republican lawmakers appeared open to.

“When you talk with regular Georgians who aren’t super political, they’re just sick of the [campaign] commercials. They’re sick of all of this,” Republican state Rep. Wes Cantrell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If our goal is for Georgians to be engaged in what’s going on politically, this [runoffs] is not the way to help. They’re just throwing their hands up.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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