Like the Electoral College, Georgia’s runoff system is historically racist
Its runoff was created because whites feared their candidates would split their voting bloc, and they'd lose.
A new report is detailing the racist roots of Georgia’s election runoff system.
There are two types of electoral systems used for voting. The first is plurality, in which the winner of the election is the candidate who gets the highest number of votes. In an election with more than two people running, this can mean a winner can get less than majority support.
But the runoff voting process is when there are two rounds of voting. If a candidate wins more than half the votes in the first round, they are declared a winner. If not, the top two candidates face off in the second round of voting.
The runoff process in Georgia was enacted in 1963 in direct response to the civil rights movement and an increase in Black voting. It was created because whites believed that white candidates would be subject to splitting their votes in a plurality-type process. The fear was that Blacks, with their large population, could vote in a single bloc, and their candidate would win with the most overall votes.
“By adopting runoff voting, even if white voters split their vote in the first round and an African American somehow made it to the second round, white voters – from both parties – would still have a chance to unite behind the white candidate to ensure victory,” Governing.com writes.
The process was adopted in the state in 1964, the year before the Voting Rights Act was signed into national law.
The Electoral College, according to Refinery 29, was directly created to “protect and preserve the power of Southern states.”
The three-fifths compromise enshrined in the Constitution stated that enslaved Black people could be counted as three-fifths of a person, which boosted the Electoral College’s voting in Southern states, even while Black people were unable to cast a ballot.
The compromise was so significant, in fact, that eight of the first nine presidential elections were won by Virginians. The state had a huge slave population, but very low numbers of white male voters.
For nearly two centuries, electors had a large influence on the outcome of presidential elections. It was only in July of this year that the Supreme Court ruled electors of a state must support the will of the people.
John R. Dunne, who served as assistant U.S. attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, has argued that the system in Georgia has had “a demonstrably chilling effect on the ability of Blacks to become candidates for public office.”
His argument is evidenced by the fact that no African American has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate, as governor or lieutenant governor in the state of Georgia.
That may change on Jan. 5 — if Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock wins his U.S. Senate runoff against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. Georgia’s other runoff race — between Republican incumbent David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff — will determine which party controls the Senate.
Ossoff, a journalist who interned for late Rep. John Lewis in high school and served as an aide to former Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, is campaigning on many issues that are important to African Americans, including health care and police reform.