After Sen. Raphael Warnock (D–Ga.) defeated GOP challenger Herschel Walker this month, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, indicated that he would propose new changes to the state's rules that could benefit not just voters but third-party candidates as well.
Currently, Georgia is one of only two states that requires runoffs for both primary and general elections if no candidate receives a majority. A 2021 law shortened the time between the general and the runoff from nine weeks to four. With only a month in which to vote and barely enough time to request, receive, and return a mailed ballot, voters in large counties contended with long lines at the polls. The state also spent millions to conduct the second election, including more than $10 million in the Atlanta metro area alone.
Speaking to The New York Times last week, Raffensperger said he would petition the state legislature with three separate proposals. One would force large counties to open more locations for voting early. Another would lower the vote total needed to avoid a runoff from 50 percent to 45.
The third proposal is the most consequential, and the most interesting. Raffensperger will also ask state lawmakers to consider switching to a ranked choice ballot for future elections.
In this system, voters rank each candidate on the ballot in order of preference. When the votes are tallied, if no candidate wins a majority, then the lowest performer is eliminated; that candidate's votes are then recounted with the voters' second choices counted first. This repeats until one candidate passes 50 percent. Proponents of ranked choice call it an "instant runoff" system, as it obviates the need to hold a runoff election at a later date.
If voters balk at the idea of a senator representing the entire state while only capturing 45 percent of the total vote, an instant runoff would be a much better option. FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that supports ranked choice voting, argued after the runoff votes were tallied that an instant runoff would do better to capture the feelings of the electorate. Between the November election and the December runoff, it noted, "total turnout dropped from 3.9 million to 3.5 million." In other words, 400,000 fewer voters turned out for the runoff, around five times what Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver received in November.
Walker and Warnock also each received fewer votes overall in the runoff than in the general. It seems illogical to claim that Warnock did not earn reelection with 1.9 million votes, but he did a month later with 1.8 million.
Ranked choice voting has its detractors. But by negating the "spoiler effect," it makes it easier for voters to vote their conscience. Voters can pick a third-party candidate; if that candidate doesn't win, then the ballot will simply be retallied with the second choice first. Voters can also choose to leave their extra spots blank. Many Alaska Republicans did exactly that this year rather than vote for Sarah Palin for U.S. House.
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