Coalition of groups propose alternative to avoid future Georgia runoff

Illustration of check marks in gold, silver and bronze.

Image: Allie Carl/Axios

As Georgia weathers its second high-profile Senate runoff in two years, a movement is underway to get rid of her.

Driving the news: A bipartisan coalition of groups released a new digital ad to push for changes to Georgia’s general election runoff system, arguing that an immediate runoff would avoid costly overtime — and the attack ads that came with it.

  • “Imagine being able to enjoy the holidays without being bombarded with negativity,” it begins.

Catch up fast: In instant runoff elections, a voter ranks candidates in order of preference. In the event that a candidate does not receive more than 50% of the vote, secondary preferences would be considered to determine a majority winner – without holding another election.

Why it matters: Proponents argue that changing the system would save taxpayers’ money and result in a larger electorate given lower turnout.

  • They also argue that the change could make campaigns less divisive and negative, as candidates will seek to be seen as voters’ second or third choice as well.

Be smart: The proposed “instant runoff” system is similar to states like Maine and much of Utah, but differs from the recently introduced open primary ranking system that Alaska introduced — in which a Democrat defeated two Republicans earlier this fall.

Zoom in: The 2021 Senate runoff will cost taxpayers an estimated $75 million, according to a Kennesaw State University study funded by pro-gager runoff advocates in Georgia.

  • The researchers also found that voter turnout “clearly” falls during most runoff elections, challenging the theoretical purpose of these extension elections: that they result in a more democratic decision by a majority of voters.

Yes and: Bill Bozarth, board member of a group in the coalition, Better Ballot Georgia, argues that ranking candidates “is a way of addressing the great political divide.”

  • “It offers a way that we get people running for office who are willing to be more moderate and compromise and try to find solutions,” he told Axios.
  • Outflows are trending toward the “most eager base,” he said.

Game Status: Georgia has already instituted some form of instant runoff for the state’s military and foreign voters. The bipartisan proposal fed into the Republican-led 2021 election overhaul, which also shortened the federal runoff to four weeks.

  • State Assemblyman Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) sponsored the original bill.
  • “My idea was to give Georgians a taste of the immediate runoff, to maybe get some clarification on that,” he told Axios.
  • Carolyn Capelouto, an expatriate Georgia voter, told Axios the process of submitting her leaderboard vote this year was “a bit confusing.” Though she ultimately turned in her ballots on time, “it could have been explained better,” she said.

The big picture: Other proposals include allowing cities to opt for immediate runoffs and introducing immediate runoffs for general elections and presidential preference primaries, have so far stalled.

Yes but: Scot Turner, a former Republican state representative and executive director of Eternal Vigilance Action, a group in the coalition, hopes exhaustion over the Senate runoff could make lawmakers more open to the idea. He also points out that there is new leadership in the legislature.

  • The reform, he told Axios, would be “a solution to the pain we all feel.”

Between the lines: The issue has bipartisan support, including State Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta). She told Axios she hoped both parties would come on board.

  • “It’s good government,” she said. “It’s efficient and promotes healthier debate during elections.”

What we observe: Better Ballot Georgia is collecting signatures for an online petition.

  • “Enough is enough – immediate runoff is a faster, cheaper and better way to conduct our elections,” Daniel Baggerman, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The bottom line: Cantrell, who will not take office next year, said he sometimes feels “in a vacuum” on the issue.

  • “No one was excited about it. But maybe they will be after this runoff. Maybe this will be the thing that will motivate people on both sides of the aisle to stand up and say we need to get rid of these outdated runoffs.”