In Charlie’s post about the runoffs yesterday morning, someone wondered why Georgia had gone to a nine week runoff period, given that previous runoffs took place three weeks after the initial election. There are several parts to the answer.
Perhaps the easiest part of the answer is that a longer runoff period than was used in the past is required by Federal law. The law is the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, also known as UOCAVA. The law requires a 45 day period for overseas voters to get their ballots returned to their elections office. 45 days is a tad over six weeks. Add enough time to certify the original primary results and get new ballots printed, and you have the nine week period between primary and runoff we have now. The US Justice Department sued Georgia two years ago, and this year’s election dates were determined by a federal judge.
The more difficult part of the answer is how do you shorten the runoff period?
One way would be to implement what are called instant runoffs. With instant runoffs, voters rank all the candidates for an office when they vote in the primary. If the first choice of all voters gets less then 50%, the candidate with the least number of first-round votes is droppped, and that candidate’s voters second choice is used. If that’s not enough to produce a winner, the process repeats itself until someone gets 50%+1.
The problem there is that, as reported by the AJC Political Insider, Georgia’s voting machines and tabulation systems are not designed to support this type of voting. As a result, in order to move to an instant runoff system, the state would either need to replace all the voting equipment statewide with newer equipment (which costs a lot of money), or develop a parallel system of instant runoffs for overseas voters and integrate it into the current system, all the while keeping deadlines for certifying the vote (also costs money).
Another solution would be to implement a secured internet system for overseas voters, but the cost of that could be north of $3,000 per vote cast.
My point here isn’t to try to determine the best way to conduct runoff elections, but to illustrate that ideal solutions to elections and voting issues inevitably have to be paid for by somebody.
Every election cycle, we hear of long lines at polling places and hours-long delays in being able to cast a ballot. And that, too, has to do with money. To reduce lines and delays, elections offices would need to add additional voting machines, and likely more personnel to allow voters to take advantage of them in a timely manner.
For those who complain their polling place is too far away, staffing additional precincts (or early voting locations) also costs money for staff, voting machines, and facility rent.
In my county of Gwinnett, the cost of putting on an election is obvious. In the presidential election year, the elections office spent $5,345,750 on its operations. In the non-election year 2013, that number dropped by more than half, to $2,464,149. In order to be able to run the 2014 elections, the department requested $5,374,669 for its budget.
In 2015, the General Assembly is going to have to make some choices about how runoff elections will be handled in the Peach State. And, like so many things in life, it will have to choose between cheap, fast and good. In the case of elections, good is a must. No one wants to deny the right of a registered voter to vote and get their ballot counted correctly. That leaves the tradeoff between cheap and fast.
Is it worth it for the state and its counties to spend more money to shorten the runoff period? What do you think?