Georgia Should Keep Its Election Runoff System – JONATHAN TURLEY

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has again called upon Georgia to follow most states and get rid of election runoffs — allowing for candidates to assume office with less than a majority of support of voters. While I have great respect for Raffensperger, I think that he is wrong on this question. As I have previously written, Georgia should be a model for other states rather than the opposite.

The objections to runoffs have been varied, including a bizarre claim that they are inherently or practically racist. There were racist uses of runoffs in the past, but that does not negate the value of guaranteeing majority support for candidates.

Raffensperger stated that “[n]ext year, there will be a contentious presidential election — and families across Georgia will be settling down for the holidays shortly after — let’s give them a break and take another costly and unnecessary election off the Thanksgiving table. I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit this topic next session and eliminate this outdated distraction.”

It is not, in my view, outdated. It is based on a premise that continues to be the very touchstone of democratic systems in other countries: candidates should be able to secure a majority of support before taking office.

Other states have applied this rule to primaries: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Vermont. In my view, the value of requiring majority support in a primary is only magnified in the general election and should be required in all states.

In reality, runoffs can enhance minority voters by forcing candidates to reach out to every major voting bloc. Roughly one-third of registered Georgia voters are Black. In 2021, even critics of runoffs acknowledged that minority voters carried the day. Indeed, now-Sen. Jon Ossoff (D) was in the same position as Walker this time; he received fewer votes than the incumbent, Republican David Perdue (who came within 0.3 percent of a majority in the first-round general election), but Ossoff ultimately prevailed in the runoff.

The political motivation for requiring runoffs decades ago does not mean it remains a racist practice or has a racially discriminatory purpose today. To the contrary, some of us have advocated for the expanded use of runoff rules as an enhancement to our democratic process.

Many countries require their leaders to secure a majority of votes in either a general or a runoff election. The United States, however, allows for the selection of a leader with less than half of the nation’s support, including leaders who actually receive fewer votes than their opponents — a reality which both parties have decried following various elections of the past, depending on which side won.

Of course, the presidential electoral system is locked into the Constitution and would require a constitutional amendment to change. However, congressional races are subject to state laws like Georgia’s. By requiring a runoff, candidates are forced to appeal to a broader swath of voters beyond simply their core party constituencies.

There is an argument that these runoffs usually do not flip the results between the two leading candidates. However, there are significant exceptions, as previously mentioned. Recently in Chicago, Paul Vallas was the leading vote getter followed by Brandon Johnson. Many of us preferred Vallas but the majority of voters did not. Johnson secured a slight majority in the runoff. Despite my opposition to Johnson, it was still the right result to give citizens the candidate with the support of the majority of the electorate.

Moreover, even if the results are not flipped or changed, a candidate under a runoff system enters office with the imprimatur of an official supported by the majority. He or she governs with greater authority as the choice of the majority.

I hope that the Peach State keeps its runoff and that other states reconsider their own election laws.

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