WASHINGTON — The top election official in the southern U.S. state of Georgia called Wednesday for the state legislature to eliminate general election runoffs when no candidate reaches the required 50% threshold in the first round of voting.
Georgia has held three crucial runoff elections in the last two years, all of which have drawn national attention, and in each instance, determined the final political party makeup of the U.S. Senate.
The election official, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said his state was one of only a few in the country where election rules call for a runoff if no candidate wins a majority in earlier voting.
“We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff,” Raffensperger said of his politically divided state, with a recent history of close outcomes between Democratic and Republican opponents. He called on the state General Assembly when it convenes in January to visit the issue and consider reforms.
“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” Raffensperger said. “It’s even tougher on the counties who had a difficult time completing all of their deadlines [from the first round of voting], an election audit and executing a runoff in a four-week time period.”
In the most recent runoff balloting last week, incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock defeated his Republican challenger, former football star Herschel Walker, by 97,000 votes after narrowly failing to reach the 50% mark in the November general election when three candidates were on the ballot.
With the runoff victory, Warnock won a six-year Senate term and Democrats gained an outright Senate majority in the Congress set to take office in January.
In early 2021, Warnock won a two-year seat in the Senate in a runoff election by defeating then-Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who had been appointed to fill a vacancy. Warnock had won the general election balloting in a multi-candidate field but fell far short of the 50% threshold.
In another Senate runoff in January 2021, Democrat Jon Ossoff defeated Republican Senator David Perdue, who had led voting in the general election but also failed to reach the 50% mark.
The Warnock and Ossoff victories last year handed Democrats a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate, but Democrats hold a narrow edge with the tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris on controversial issues.
Election laws vary widely throughout the 50 U.S. states, though most runoff elections, if they do occur, are linked to political primary elections to select party nominees for general elections that most often are held in early November each year.
Only Georgia and another southern state, Louisiana, have runoffs to determine the outcome of both primary and general elections. In all other states, the leading vote-getter in the general election is declared the winner, even if it only is with a plurality of the vote.