Voices & Choices

Georgia Primary Runoffs Yield Abysmal Turnout

Georgia Primary Runoffs Yield Abysmal Turnout

Georgia held their state primary runoffs on Tuesday, August 11. The elections yielded poor voter turnout, reinforcing the need for ranked choice voting to avoid the need for expensive runoff elections. 

Primary runoffs are meant to ensure that the eventual party nominee has broad support by mandating that if no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the primary election, the top two vote-getters move on to a runoff. The problem with runoff elections is that, due to poor voter turnout, the runoff winner often has not actually achieved majority support of the entire electorate. 

In Georgia’s runoff elections, turnout declined by at least 30 percent from the primary election in June. Two of the winners, Democrats Joyce Griggs in the 1st congressional district and Devin Pandy in the 9th congressional district, won with fewer votes than they received in the primary election. With such a small percentage of the electorate showing up to vote in the runoffs, it is difficult to discern whether the candidates were able to win by truly appealing to a majority of voters, or if they simply appealed to the small percentage that shows up for runoffs. 

In three of the four congressional primary runoffs, the plurality winner of the primary did not win the runoff. Voters could genuinely have changed their minds about the candidates, but with a smaller electorate, it is impossible to say whether the runoff winner was successful because they secured broad support or because a much smaller pool of voters turned out for the runoff. Additionally, with crowded primary pools, the majority of voters do not even see their preferred candidate on a runoff ballot, further denying voters from expressing their true choice. 

Finally, runoff elections can be extremely expensive. From costing taxpayers large sums of money to asking voters to risk their health in the middle of a pandemic to vote in yet another election, the runoff was unnecessary, especially if Georgia used ranked choice voting.

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is the best solution to the problems created by runoff elections. RCV elections simulate runoff elections and ensure that winners have a majority of support by allowing voters to rank the candidates in order of their preference, eliminating the candidate that comes in last and redistributing their votes to other candidates still in the race until a winner has a majority. Only one ballot and one election is needed, ensuring that the winners are selected by the larger electorate. Election officials in Georgia and across the country should implement RCV to guarantee a truly representative government, save money, and boost voter turnout.

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