Voices & Choices

Turnout drops for major contests in Georgia’s runoffs

Turnout drops for major contests in Georgia’s runoffs

Nine weeks after they first voted in the primary, Georgia voters returned to the polls yesterday for three high-profile runoff elections. For Republicans, a hotly contested gubernatorial race that saw insults fly was on the ballot. And for Democrats, candidates in the 6th and 7th Congressional  Districts fought for nominations to take on vulnerable Republican incumbents in November.

The GOP governor’s race saw Brian Kemp win in a landslide, even after trailing Casey Cagle by 13 points after the first round. However this time around, over 20,000 fewer people showed up to cast a ballot. Though gubernatorial runoffs sometimes see an increase in turnout, even this highly divisive and widely covered election saw participation drop.

For Democrats, the results were more predictable. The 6th Congressional District saw a turnout decline of 36 percent, while the 7th CD dropped by a discouraging 52 percent. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux, the winners of these low-turnout runoffs, actually won with fewer votes than they received in the primary.

This is commonplace, as turnout in congressional primary runoffs nearly always declines. As FairVote previously reported, elections like this from 1994 to 2016 saw turnout drop almost every time, and by an average of 39 percent. That trend has continued this year, with participation tumbling in 25 of 26 congressional primary runoffs by an average of 44 percent. For those who believe our representatives should reflect the electorate they serve, these results are concerning.

Some Georgians are fed up with the low turnout and divisive campaigning of this year’s runoffs, and have offered ranked choice voting as a possible reform. With such a steep decline in voter participation, the results in Georgia may amplify these calls for better elections.

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