State lawmakers will have to consider getting rid of runoff elections in Georgia next year – at least those involving federal candidates in general elections – because of a recent ruling by a U.S. district judge requiring 45 days for ballots cast by members of the U.S. military to make their way home, Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Monday.
Ballot requirements insisted on by the U.S. Justice Department and upheld by the court last week all but invalidate a current state law requiring that winners in all general elections receive 50 percent plus one vote, Kemp said – given that federal runoffs in those contests would have to be delayed until late December.
“We’d be voting during Christmas. There may be people getting certified while other people are getting sworn in. It’s really a logistical nightmare,” Kemp said.
Primary calendars may also need to be changed if runoff elections are to be preserved in those contests, Kemp said. This year’s primary balloting will occur on July 31. To comply with the federal court ruling, Kemp this year has agreed to allow runoff ballots from overseas to be collected and counted for 10 days beyond the Aug. 21 voting date.
“We could do away with runoffs in federal elections, which is what Florida does. You get the most votes, you’re going to Congress,” Kemp said. If the Legislature wants to preserve primary runoffs, then the date of Georgia’s mid-summer primary would have to be pushed into mid-June. Which would require qualifying – the period in which candidates declare themselves – to be held in April instead of May.
Runoffs in elections for state or local offices aren’t affected by the federal judge’s ruling, but the costs of the extra balloting could tempt county election boards to press for similar treatment.
Aside from ending runoffs, another option would be to build an Internet-based system that would allow U.S. military personnel to cast electronic ballots, Kemp said. “We’ve kind of looked at that already,” he said. “I don’t want to get too out front on that issue, from a security standpoint. I do have concerns there. There are other secretaries of state that do.”
As for other solutions, Kemp expressed no bias. “It doesn’t matter what my preferences are. It’s just a matter of getting everybody else on board. What we were working under before was state law,” he said. “We have to get something the governor’s comfortable with, and we have to get the legislative bodies to go along as well — and I don’t know what our congressional guys think.”
Kemp said he would probably begin consulting with all parties after the July primary.
The last major statewide runoff in a federal contest was in 2008, when Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss was forced into four weeks of extra campaigning by Democrat Jim Martin. Chambliss won. In the 1992 race for U.S. Senate, Republican challenger Paul Coverdell ousted Democratic incumbent Wyche Fowler by drawing him into a runoff. In each case, the race included a Libertarian candidate.
Obviously, ending runoffs in general elections could enhance the clout of third parties in Georgia, whether in statewide or congressional races. For instance, Cynthia McKinney’s decision to run as a Green Party candidate against Democratic incumbent Hank Johnson in the 4th District congressional race might have little effect this year, but could make a much larger difference in 2014 – should Georgia abandon all runoffs.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider