House District 139! Oh Those Wacky Runoffs!

It is no secret that in my role at my day job at Eternal Vigilance Action I work without tiring to end the problems created by runoff elections in Georgia. So, Dear Reader, be aware of my biases. But make no mistake, runoffs are a problem and one need look no further than the weird scenario the special election to replace State Rep Richard Smith.

During the legislative session, House Rules Chairman Richard Smith, who represented House District 139, passed away suddenly. Because of the timing of Chairman Smith’s passing, a special election was scheduled according to state law for April 9th.

Four candidates qualified to run, Sean Knox, Robert Mallard, Donald Moeller, and Carmen Rice.

Sounds simple enough, right? But here is where its kinda wild, so please follow me.

Because this is an election year, anyone who wanted to serve in the House had to qualify for the special election and for the May Primary and the following general election in November. Meaning they had to qualify for two separate election cycles. Republicans Knox, Moeller, and Rice all did so. For some reason, Robert Mallard did not according to the data we had when qualifying closed. Democrat Carl Sprayberry only qualified for the primary and general, but not the special election.

Got that? Good.

In the April 9th special election, no candidate received the mandatory 50%+1 of the vote, so Knox and Rice are going to be in a special election runoff which is scheduled for May 7th.

Now here is where it gets really weird. We always see a massive drop off in runoffs, and especially in special election runoffs. In my own special election runoff in 2013, I won 60% of the vote with 903. Compare that to the 20,000 or so who voted for me the last time I ran for office and it becomes obvious that special election runoffs are a special kind of nuts. While it is possible for the May 8th special election runoff to be an anomaly, if the pattern holds, there will be a significant drop off in voter participation.

Add to all of this that the primary is scheduled for May 21st, just two weeks later.

Which means that because of the weird timing and drop off in turnout, it is possible that the winner of the special election runoff could lose in the primary just two weeks later. This would mean that the winner of the special election runoff could potentially be sworn in as the State Rep for District 139 for the rest of this year, never serve a single legislative day, and have to hand off the position to the person who lost the special but won the primary.

Of course there is no guarantee that happens, but because of runoffs and timing it is certainly possible. Especially since Knox and Rice finished with a 12 vote margin.

Y’all, runoffs are always nuts. But this case highlights just how absurd they can really get.

4 Replies to “House District 139! Oh Those Wacky Runoffs!”

  1. This has happened several times before…however, as a percentage of all multi-candidate elections, it is quite small. Likely, infinitesimally small.

    The fact that Democrat Carl Sprayberry didn’t want to vie for the special election slot is non-consequential.

    Just like I disagreed with then-Senator David Shafer on his attempt to change decades-old methods of allocating electoral votes in Presidential Elections (via his lead sponsorship on SB 376, “Elect the President by National Popular Vote”, I disagree with this concept of yours that seeks to solve some low-percentage occurring phantom problem, Scot.

    Its not up to the omniscient State Legislature to attempt to solve the ‘problem’ of low turnout run-offs with some half-baked idea of ranking candidates.

    1. I didn’t mention ranking candidates at all in this article but I do object to calling an election system “half baked” when it is used by 13 million Americans including here in Georgia by those serving overseas in the military.

      And I didn’t mention RCV here because the problems in this cycle would have still existed even with RCV. The only thing that would have changed is that we would already know who won the special and saved the money to conduct the runoff. The campaigns would have also saved a ton of money.

      But there certainly is opposition to the idea, especially by those who make money from extended campaigns.

      1. Ya never can tell what can come out as hidden negative information about a candidate in the ensuing weeks of a run-off election. That time is spent by opposing campaigns in the ability to perform research they didn’t have time to do in the “primary/general” election.

        The run-off time allows for more opportunities for voters who spend time researching candidates’ qualifications and, yes, skeletons.

        So, run-off time allows more time to acquire and disseminate information about all candidates involved in run-offs.

        I presume you are in favor of factual, negative information coming out to the public’s eye BEFORE someone gets elected, right?

        And, better that it be done before some scoundrel gets elected than have it be discovered after they get elected, right?

        1. Not at the cost of Republicans losing winnable elections and hundreds of thousands of voters having their votes discarded. I’ll take a more representative result as a trade off. Besides, there’s already plenty of time for negative campaigning. No need to wait for a runoff and charge the taxpayers for the costs.

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