By Dianne Gallagher and Shania Shelton, CNN
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has called on state lawmakers to eliminate general election runoffs.
“Georgia is one of the only states in country with a General Election Runoff,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the General Election Runoff and consider reforms.”
Georgia’s general election runoff system, rooted in its segregationist past, says that if no candidate in a general election gets more than 50% of the vote, the race must go to a runoff four weeks later between the two candidates who received the most votes. In the runoff, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Raffensperger’s statement comes a little more than a week after Georgia’s third US Senate runoff election in two years, which saw Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeat Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
The secretary of state pointed to the additional impact the four-week runoff period had on voters and county election officials this year.
“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” said Raffensperger. “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.”
In this year’s runoff, more than 3.5 million people cast ballots in the state, down from the nearly 4.5 million who voted in the 2021 runoffs. Early in-person voter turnout ahead of this runoff was down from 2021.
Still, the single-day turnout broke records, and top Republican officials in the state argued the high numbers refuted claims that the 2021 elections law was designed to suppress votes in Georgia. Voting groups pushed back on this notion and said voters and activists had to overcome both new and longstanding obstacles.
“Just because people endured long lines that wrapped around buildings, some blocks long … doesn’t mean that voter suppression does not exist,” Warnock said during his victory speech last week.
The secretary of state noted that the Georgia General Assembly convenes in January and “could select from a wide range of options to address this topic to help further to goal of safe, secure, and efficient elections.” Raffensperger did not endorse any specific system to replace general election runoffs.
Raffensperger’s call nearly two years after GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed a wide-ranging elections law that, among other things, reduced the amount of time between a November election and potential runoff.
Georgia Democrats and voting rights groups have criticized the law consistently as a barrier to voting in the state and say that certain elements target Black voters.
The origins of runoff elections go back to the 19th century, when some states began using the process in the final decades of the century to quash Black political power.
Georgia’s runoff system was first enacted in 1964, and its original sponsor sought to guarantee that candidates backed by Black Georgians could not win outright with a plurality of the vote.
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