Georgia Secretary of State Pushes to End Runoff Elections in State

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(Bloomberg) -- Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is calling for an end to runoff elections in the state, saying counties struggled to meet deadlines during the newly truncated balloting that ended in a US Senate victory for Democrats last week.

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“Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a general election runoff,” Raffensperger said Wednesday in an emailed release. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff.”

Raffensberger said he will ask the legislature to address the state’s runoff law when it convenes next month.

Georgia law requires a runoff when no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. The requirement was originally intended to dilute “bloc voting,” widely seen as the ability of a single Black candidate to win in general elections against multiple White contenders. Democrats have long derided the practice as a legacy of Jim Crow.

For years, runoffs have favored Republican candidates because of higher turnout among their supporters. That changed in 2021, when a huge Democratic get-out-the-vote effort delivered US Senate seats to Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, giving the party control of the chamber.

Georgia’s Republican-led legislature tinkered with runoffs later that year, shortening the timeline from nine weeks to just four, as part of a larger package of election-law changes.

The Dec. 6 race between Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker was the first statewide general election runoff under the new timetable. Warnock was running again because his 2021 victory was for the balance of an unexpired term.

The shorter voting period led to challenges for county elections boards, including a court fight over weekend voting as the new Georgia law collided with other election requirements.

Democratic activists who have long decried the runoff system say the timing of Republicans’ new-found concern is suspicious, coming after back-to-back runoff wins by Democrats.

“The most obvious explanation is that they no longer feel confident that the racist runoff system can serve their ends, even after all of the drastic changes that they made to restrict voter access in last year’s voter suppression bill,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said in a text.

Raffensperger said he was concerned about the effects of runoffs on both the public and county election boards.

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

Raffensberger said voting in the midterm election broke records and that the state has made it easier, not harder, to vote.

Democratic activist Hillary Holley, director of Care in Action, which represents domestic workers, agreed with the idea of ending the runoff system while taking issue with Republicans’ motive. Raffensberger is “only doing this because the Jim Crow runoff law that was created in 1964 is no longer serving right-wing and GOP candidates,” she said.

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