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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger calls for an end to runoff elections

Raffensperger called on the Legislature to eliminate general election runoffs. Georgia is one of only two states that still hold them.
Brad Raffensperger attends a news conference in McDonough, Ga., on July 29, 2020.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at a news conference in McDonough on July 29, 2020. Dustin Chambers / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday called for the Legislature to end general election runoff contests.

“Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a General Election Runoff,” he said in a statement. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the General Election Runoff and consider reforms.

“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” added Raffensperger, a Republican who is the top elections official in Georgia, a crucial battleground state. “It’s even tougher on the counties who had a difficult time completing all of their deadlines, an election audit and executing a runoff in a four-week time period.”

He urged the change a week after Georgia’s closely watched Senate runoff election, in which Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated GOP challenger Herschel Walker. It was the state's third Senate general election runoff in the past two election cycles.

Responding to requests from NBC News for more information about Raffensperger's opposition to runoffs, a spokesperson for his office said that election workers are “burned out” at the end of a long election season and that runoff elections are disliked by candidates, voters, campaigns and county workers alike.

The spokesperson mentioned three options Georgia legislators might consider when they convene next month if they decide to discuss ending runoffs. Raffensperger mentioned the three options at a news conference last week after the runoff and again in an interview with The New York Times.

One option would be to create a ranked-choice ballot and an instant-runoff system in which voters would rank their candidate preferences on the general election ballot. If a candidate does not get more than 50% of the vote, an instant runoff would occur, which would mean voters would not have to return to the polls for a runoff election.

Another option would be to lower the threshold candidates have to meet to avoid a runoff from an outright majority (more than 50%) to a plurality, the spokesperson said, while another option could be to eliminate third-party candidate ballot access altogether.

The spokesperson said the office was not advocating for any one proposal.

The General Assembly meets in January.

Under Georgia law, a runoff occurs if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote. The top two vote-getters then advance to another election.

Georgia is one of only two states — the other is Louisiana — that continue to hold general election runoffs (nine more use runoffs in primaries). Critics have noted that the runoff process has origins in decades-old segregationist legislation in both Southern states.

The runoff process underwent an overhaul just last year as part of a sweeping election law enacted in the state.

The law, Senate Bill 202, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March 2021, cut the time allowed between a general election and a runoff election in half — from nine weeks to four weeks — drastically shortening the period during which many voters must request, receive and cast ballots. The narrowed time frame effectively cut the early in-person voting period from a minimum of 16 days in 2020 to a minimum of five this year, while existing rules ensured almost no new voters would be eligible to vote in the runoff.

The narrower time frame was further complicated because the Thanksgiving holiday fell in the middle of it, which voting rights advocates had warned ahead of the election could mean Saturday early voting would be limited for many people and various deadlines to request and send out mail-in ballots would sneak up on voters.