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Opinion

Georgia: Vote smarter, not harder


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Oct. 03, 2022 - 8:21 AM

Georgia: Vote smarter, not harder

Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.

If you are already sick of political advertisements, campaign mailers and door-knockers, then I have some disheartening news for you.

Not only will these tactics continue from now until the Nov. 8 general election, but due to Georgia’s elections laws, the election could extend weeks beyond this.

Like most of my readers, I shudder at this thought. A drawn-out election cycle isn’t particularly productive or enjoyable. It will cost taxpayers a bounty, force Georgians to endure incessant campaign attacks and create political uncertainty along the way. Combined, this is an important reminder that Georgia policymakers ought to update the Peach State’s elections laws.

Unlike some other states, Georgia law requires prospective candidates to garner a majority of votes to win their election. When there are only two candidates, this generally isn’t a problem, but if there are more than two, matters tend to get a little more complicated because it’s harder to clear the majority threshold.

If no candidate achieves a majority, then that forces another election—a run-off—nine weeks later between the two highest vote-getters as the election cycle continues until there’s a winner. This is why then-Sen. David Perdue—despite winning the plurality of votes in the 2020 general election—actually lost his re-election bid. He faced two opponents, a Democrat and a Libertarian. This prevented anyone from gaining a majority—triggering a run-off in which Perdue ultimately lost.

Given the contested nature of the 2022 general elections, it’s possible that Georgians will have to suffer more run-offs—potentially in statewide races. According to some reports, five candidates are competing for the governor’s mansion; three are vying to be lieutenant governor; four are seeking the office of secretary of state; and many other races likewise have more than two candidates. Put simply, reaching the majority threshold could prove to be challenging in some cases.

While it is too late to change the laws governing the upcoming cycle, adopting the instant run-off model could save Georgians from the pain of traditional run-offs in the future. Instead of only voting for one candidate, this paradigm asks voters to rank candidates for each race in order of preference—first-choice, second, third and so on. If on Election Day no candidate earns a majority of first-choice votes in a particular race, then that initiates an instant run-off.

“The candidate who did the worst is eliminated, and that candidate’s voters’ ballots are redistributed to their second-choice pick. In other words, if you ranked a losing candidate as your first choice, and the candidate is eliminated, then your vote still counts: it just moves to your second-choice candidate,” writes Time Magazine. In this way, the process continues until there is a consensus candidate without the need for a run-off nine weeks later.

This isn’t some untested theory either. “As of July 2022, 55 cities, counties, and states are projected to use [instant run-offs] for all voters in their next election based on using it in their most recent election or a recent adoption. These jurisdictions are home to over 11 million voters, and include 2 states, 1 county, and 52 cities,” according to FairVote. Even Georgia has approved a version of it for military and overseas voters, and there are several reasons why it should be expanded.

Georgia’s run-off elections are massively expensive. A 2017 study pegged the price of elections in 26 states at over $8 per voter, which quickly adds up to a large sum. Another study found that “statewide runoffs [in Louisiana] cost almost as much as the first-round election, doubling voting expenditures and amounting to $5 million spent each time.” The costs could be even higher in a larger state like Georgia. However, despite the high costs, turnout in run-offs is historically low, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t attract considerable attention.

The 2020 Georgia run-offs generated some $500 million in political campaign spending alone. This ensured that media markets were saturated with ads, mailboxes were stuffed with mailers, online ads were ubiquitous and campaign workers went door-to-door for many weeks longer than was necessary. The extra spending in the 2020 run-off guaranteed that nearly every Georgian not only knew about the election, but was thoroughly annoyed by the constant harassment.

If Georgia followed other locales’ leads and adopted an instant run-off model, Georgians could avoid many of these pitfalls. Millions of taxpayer dollars would be saved, voters wouldn’t be badgered by as many political ads after November, face weeks of uncertainty leading up to run-offs would be eliminated, and the problem of comparatively low turnout in run-offs would become a thing of the past.

We may be stuck with run-offs later this year, but lawmakers would be wise to consider instant run-offs in future elections.

Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.