At this moment, taxpayers in Dawson, Fannin and Gilmer counties are footing the bill for a runoff election in House District 7 to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Speaker David Ralston. County-paid workers – hard to recruit during this time of workforce shortages and vitriol toward those who do these jobs — will staff days of early voting and every precinct on Election Day. Meanwhile, District 7 constituents will go without representation for the first month of the 2023 session, even though the first round of voting occurred before the session began.
That vote held on Jan. 3 enjoyed fairly strong turnout for a standalone special election that largely took place during a holiday season where voters’ minds were far from politics. Nearly 8,000 voters cast ballots; that’s 17.5 percent turnout. The upcoming runoff’s turnout isn’t likely to come anywhere near that level.
Wasted money. Wasted time. Wasted representation. There’s a better way, and I say that as someone who first got elected to the state House in a 2013 special election runoff where turnout plummeted so far that I won the seat with less than 1,000 votes.
Numerous states in recent years have successfully implemented Instant Runoff Voting, and it’s a reform that Georgia – the only state in the nation whose runoffs put the U.S. Senate on hold two cycles in a row – should consider this legislative session.
IRV would allow us to maintain majority rule without a second round and all the headaches, expenses and voter fatigue that entails. Voters could vote for their preferred candidate and then rank the other candidates second, third, etc. If candidates garner a majority of first round votes, they win outright, just like they do today. If no one receives a majority, the last place finisher is eliminated and second place votes distributed. In theory, this goes through several rounds. In Georgia, however, we’re proposing IRV only for general and special elections, not primaries, and our general elections are usually a three-way race between a Republican, a Democrat and a Libertarian.
In the 2022 U.S. Senate race, the Libertarian candidate received 80,000 votes. If those voters were allowed to rank their second favorite, it would have saved counties tens of millions of dollars during a holiday season when Georgians were exhausted with politics. Every Georgian could name a priority where they’d rather spend that time and money, from tax cuts to roads to schools to healthcare to public safety.
Far from taking us down an unknown or radical path, IRV is already working and popular in other states. In fact, it’s our current system that’s the outlier. No other state has a general election runoff like ours. Most allow candidates to win with a plurality. Defenders of our current system say they want to maintain majoritarian rule. IRV allows us to select a candidate with majority support in only one vote, and it better reflects the will of the people with the broadest electorate possible, given the inevitable and often severe voter drop-off in runoffs.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen outside interest groups oppose this needed reform with specious arguments. It’s not their tax dollars being wasted or their Thanksgiving marred with political ads and door knocks. Georgians want a rational improvement on an inefficient system.
Let’s save money and time, maintain the voice of voters whose candidates are eliminated and enjoy the added benefit of more civil discourse that results from candidates seeking the second-choice votes of their opponents’ supporters.
Many of our state representatives and senators are open to change. Instant runoffs preserve what we like about our current system – majority rule – and discards what we’d rather do without.
Scot Turner, a former state representative from Cherokee County, is the executive director of Eternal Vigilance Action, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies that promote liberty and justice for all.