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Raffensperger calls for doing away with general election runoffs

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is asking the General Assembly to end general election runoffs in Georgia.

Raffensperger’s proposal, released Wednesday, comes just more than a week after Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff after neither candidate received a majority of the votes in the November general election.

“Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a general election runoff,” Raffensperger said. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. … No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday.”

Georgia lawmakers have made changes to the vote threshold general election candidates must meet to avoid runoffs since 1968, when voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring the governor’s race to go to a runoff if none of the candidates received a majority of votes in the general election.

After Democratic incumbent Sen. Wyche Fowler lost to Republican challenger Paul Coverdell in a 1992 runoff, the General Assembly’s Democratic majority reduced the 50%-plus-one vote requirement to avoid a runoff to 45%. That worked out for the Democrats four years later when the late Max Cleland won the seat of retiring Sen. Sam Nunn with more than 45% of the vote but less than 50%.

Republicans responded to that 1996 loss when the GOP won control of the legislature in 2004. During their first legislative session in power, Republicans changed the requirement back to the 50%-plus-one threshold.

Some second-place finishers in the general election have gone on to turn the tables and win the runoff, including Coverdell. But this year, Warnock finished first in both the general election and the runoff, lending credence to the argument that general election runoffs are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Raffensperger said the four-week turnaround between the general election and runoff this year – about half of the gap between the general election and runoff two years ago – made it particularly difficult for county elections offices to execute the runoff. The shorter time frame this year also resulted in fewer early voting days, prompting complaints from Democrats.

Raffensperger said the General Assembly could choose from a wide list of options as an alternative to general election runoffs. Those include eliminating or reducing the 50%-plus-one vote threshold, or going with ranked-choice voting, which would allow voters to rank their choices according to preference.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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