Runoffs, Explained.

By: Jayanth Karuturi 

What are the Georgia Runoffs?

 

According to Merriam Webster, a runoff is “a final race, contest, or election to decide an earlier one that has not resulted in a decision in favor of any one competitor”. In the United States, which gives individual states broad-ranging powers regarding election administration, numerous states have chosen a runoff style-system for electing candidates to office. In Georgia, which is one of the aforementioned states with such a system, if no candidates secure an outright majority(more than 50 percent) of the vote in the November general election, the top-two vote getters proceed to a second election in January to determine a final winner.


The History of the Georgia Runoffs

 

For many, this system may at first glance seem intuitively fairer than the regular first past the post election system most states hold. After all, the idea that a candidate must secure an overall majority of the electorate in their state or district would seem to reflect a broader range of opinion contrasted with winning office based on a plurality of votes. However the purposes of runoff systems in Southern states such as Georgia have more nefarious origins. In the height of the civil rights movement, as Africans-Americans had finally gained the effective right to vote, Southern Democratic politicians, who at the time were dominant due to support from the rural white populations of their states, felt their political power was being threatened by a new influx of African American voters into the electoral process. In order to address this threat, state representative Denmark Groover of Macon Georgia, introduced a proposal for majority-voting in Georgia, stating explicitly that his loss and the loss of other white politicians in the wake of the civil rights movement was due to a split in the votes of white Southerners and “bloc voting” amongst African-Americans, enabling politicians amicable to Black interests to win office based on a plurality of the vote. However, over the following decades, attempts to remove this legislation in court have failed due to a lack of substantive evidence regarding its impact, and to this day it is unclear as to how much, if any, racial impact this legislation has actually had in the state of Georgia.