Finding Alternatives to Runoff Elections Just Got More Urgent

One of the most disruptive features of the 2014 election cycle was a result of a court ruling that in order to allow overseas soldiers enough time to vote in a runoff election, absentee ballots would need to be provided 45 days prior to election day. Following the judge’s ruling, the legislature passed House Bill 310, which moved the primary election to late May and the runoff election to late July. Had the general election for the Senate gone to a runoff, that would have been held in early January. But election dates were not the only things to change. Election qualifying was moved up to early March, and legislators sped through the 2014 session, even “meeting” when the Capitol was closed due to snow and ice, in order to be able to raise money and campaign as early as possible.

The state had appealed Judge Jones’s ruling to the 11th Circuit Court, which issued its ruling on Tuesday. From the summary:

The district court ruled that the 45-day transmittal requirement applies to runoff elections for federal office, and that the runoff election schemes in these two states violated UOCAVA. After the district court had issued its ruling and after the briefs in this appeal were filed, the Georgia Legislature passed H.B. 310, which in relevant part amends Georgia’s election calendar and voting procedures to comply with the 45-day transmittal requirement. In light of H.B. 310, the court dismissed Georgia’s appeal as moot.

Coincidentally, State Rep. Buzz Brockway filed House Resolution 399 a week ago, calling for the Speaker to appoint a five member committee to study alternatives to runoffs. Specifically, the resolution states,

WHEREAS, there have been many ideas proposed regarding alternatives to runoffs, such as plurality elections, “jungle” primaries, and instant run-off or preferential voting methods, and alternatives to long run-off periods, such as allowing military and overseas citizens to vote online or through other electronic means; and

WHEREAS, in light of the experiences from the 2014 election and the dissatisfaction expressed by many citizens regarding the process, alternatives to the current election schedule need to be studied to determine if modifications should be made to how Georgia conducts its elections.

A hearing on the resolution in the Elections Subcommittee of the Governmental Affairs Committee had been scheduled for this afternoon. Due to the weather, the meeting is going to be postponed. But because of the Appeals Court ruling, the need for the study committee just became more important.

28 comments

  1. androidguybill says:

    So the “same day runoff” proposal that Lani Guinier was raked over the coals by the GOP – and using the worst sort of dog whistle race baiting language possible – for proposing back in the day will very likely be enacted in Georgia. I wonder if Newt Gingrich and company will send her an apology note or something (not likely).

    • Will Durant says:

      According to Buzz in previous entries to this forum our current machines would have to be replaced to allow for instant runoffs.

      • benevolus says:

        This is true, but Scan Tron is relatively low-tech, widely available, already used here (not only for absentee ballots,but also in schools), includes a paper ballot, mature system, and is pretty inexpensive.

  2. Will Durant says:

    Open primaries with top two in the general is the most economic and democratic solution. Therefore the chance of it actually happening is probably nil.

      • Will Durant says:

        A party could still nominate it’s own candidate only without the taxpayers footing the bill. The two-party system has not functioned in Georgia and has given us something more akin to dictatorships than democracy. When all of the branches are of the same party there are no checks and balances. This leads to corruption regardless of R or D designation. The balance changing from D to R in Georgia did not affect the good-ol’-boy system one iota. Making sure that most incumbents will be “primaried” cannot be worse than doing the same thing that isn’t working over and over.

        • benevolus says:

          I have no problem with that. The parties already have elections for their officers and other posts, why not add candidates.

    • Will Durant says:

      ALL elections paid for by the taxpayers should be nonpartisan. Just as the state should be agnostic towards religion they should be the same towards political parties.

  3. northside101 says:

    Most states don’t have runoffs—even in the South, Tennessee and Virginia long have only required plurality wins in their primaries and contests, so in a primary for instance, if there is a 10-person field and the top candidate gets only 22 percent of the vote, he or she is the nominee. I think Florida ditched primary runoffs sometime in the last 10-15 years too. But the runoff tradition in southern states goes back to the day when the Democratic nomination was “tantamount to election”, and there was a sense accordingly that the nominee should have substantial (majority) support as the de facto next person in the position up for grabs. Of course these days, in most legislative and all the state’s congressional districts, the party primary, whether D or R (depending on the district) is tantamount to election, thus perhaps a reason to retain runoffs in some form (perhaps though with a lower threshold, say 40% gives you the nomination in a crowded field). In the current congressional map, for instance, the delegation is likely to stay 10-4 in favor of GOP til we get to the 2020 census.

    Georgia history would have been quite different if we had not had runoffs—Sam Nunn would not have gone to the Senate, Joe Frank Harris and Nathan Deal would not have been governor, and Kasim Reed would not have been elected mayor without them. And Julian Bond, not John Lewis, would have gone to Congress from the 5th District back in 1986.

  4. saltycracker says:

    We elect butterflies and they morph into caterpillars.
    Top 3 facts about caterpillars (stolen from insects.about.com)

    1. A caterpillar has just one job – to eat. Politician – acquire/spend money.
    2. Caterpillars increase their body mass by as much as 1,000 times or more. Politician – money.
    3. A caterpillar’s first meal is usually its eggshell. Politician – constituents money.

    Term limits.

  5. Joel Natt says:

    We all must be careful on this matter. As we look for the changing speed of technology, we forget that elections are designed to be slow and careful to allow for proper veting by the public. So as alternatives are examined, I hope that board will look at what each Election Board in this State thinks as well.

    • Noway says:

      To help with your slow and careful model, Joel, would you advocate ending all early voting that is taking place now and go back to the original Tuesday and traditional absentee voting? Not a gotcha question, I’d support that 100%.

  6. Joel Natt has the wisest post here. Agreed 100%.

    Look at the number of runoffs where the second place finisher wins. It is often, and occurs after voters can view two candidates side by side for more clarity. A “first place takes all” approach to politics, where no one has to actually win a majority of the vote, lends itself to extremism in which a candidate may only focus on 38% of the voters. Runoffs do serve a good and proper function in a democracy.

    • Noway says:

      Or the people who voted in the original election simply chose not to participate in the runoff. Couldn’t be bothered. In a word – lazy. The second place finisher just got their folks out better. The second place guy didn’t suddenly become more saintly! If that were the case Barr would have come back to overwhelm Loudermilk. And the extremism you spoke of needs to be better battled by the original competitors who can also target the magical 38%. A plurality would work just fine and would save the state major bucks.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      So the system of state that elected Broun, Hice, etc, that has runoffs is electing less extreme candidates than the very large majority of states that don’t have runoffs.

      Beyond that, that turnout in runoffs is almost always significantly less. I’d suggest that many of those that vote for the candidates that don’t make to the runoff do so in protest. And whether they cast a protest vote or not, already know who’d they choose in the runoff. I’m saying the (initial) vote would often be different if there were no runoffs.

      As a pollster I’d appreciate your comments on how many voters that voted for those in the runoff return to vote and typically change their votes. I suspect it’s insignificant, meaning it’s all about an energized base of support where extremism is most pronounced.

    • Will Durant says:

      And there are examples like Richard Woods whose selection by 3% of Georgia’s registered voters in the primary runoff was tantamount to winning the School Superintendent’s race. Risking that an electorate is willing to go to the polls up to 5 times per cycle is exposing us primarily to extremists as Mr. Bearse is pointing out here. Nonpartisan primaries with a top two going to the general gives you your runoff and a guarantee of a winner selected by the majority of the voters. I don’t expect this to go over with the current party in power unless there are enough of them to take the long view rather than just the next cycle.

      And Mark, the cynic in me suggests you should at least give a disclaimer since 4-5 trips to the polls each cycle is also best for your business as well.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        The multiple trips to the polls crossed my mind. I didn’t go there because it’s not a lack of disclosure (to me)—anyone that’s been around here any length of time knows Mark’s in the polling / campaign business. Mark needn’t add plus one for people.

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