The Standard Journal

Instant runoffs bill introduced in Georgia House

- By Dave Williams This story is available through a news partnershi­p with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educationa­l Foundation.

An effort that could lead eventually to the eliminatio­n of runoff elections in Georgia has surfaced in the General Assembly.

State Rep. Joseph Gullett, R-Dallas, introduced a bill into the Georgia House last week that would allow Georgia cities to experiment with instant runoff voting in nonpartisa­n municipal elections.

“This legislatio­n promotes local control,” said Gullett. “If passed, it gives cities the option to avoid the cost of expensive runoff elections while maintainin­g the principle of majority rule.

“Cities that don’t want it, don’t have to do it, and cities that try it and don’t like it, can go back to their original system. This bill provides flexibilit­y and options, not mandates.”

Runoffs have drawn a number of critics in Georgia in recent years, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensper­ger, whose department oversees elections.

Besides the expense of holding an additional election, Raffensper­ger argued Georgians who vote in general elections in early November don’t want their Thanksgivi­ng holidays interrupte­d by runoff campaigns and having to go back to the polls a second time.

Under an instant runoff voting system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins more than half of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.

At that point, voters who selected the defeated candidate as their top choice have those votes added to the totals of their next choice. The process continues until a candidate has amassed more than half of the votes.

Scott Turner, executive director of Eternal Vigilance Action, a Georgia group that supports instant runoffs, said the municipal opt-in would provide Georgians an opportunit­y to see how instant runoffs would work when there are multiple candidates in a race.

“Voters will quickly discover an easy-to-use system that’s better, cheaper and faster than the expensive, exhausting runoff elections we use now,” Turner said. “Recent polling has shown that Georgians want to change our runoff system, and this is a chance for legislator­s to creatively answer the call for reform.”

Georgia has experience using municipal elections to experiment with new voting processes. In 2001, thenSecret­ary of State Cathy Cox oversaw the use of touchscree­n voting machines in Georgia for the first time during local elections in several cities scattered across the state. Touch-screen voting was adopted statewide the following year.

The instant runoff measure, House Bill 200, has picked up bipartisan support. Its House cosponsors include Republican Reps. Clay Pirkle of Ashburn and Victor Anderson of Cornelia, and Democratic Reps. Stacey Evans of Atlanta and Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur.

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