Sainz Misses Outright Win by 20 Votes

State Representative Steven Sainz and I have something in common; we both know what it is like to wake up the morning after election day to be within striking distance of an outright win, but being forced to endure another month on the campaign trail because we came up just short. In my case the number of votes needed to avoid a runoff was 117, but Rep. Sainz needed just 20 additional votes to avoid a runoff.

I tell you from experience, that is going to leave a mark.

Of course, there is still a possibility a few provisional ballots will have been cured, changing the final totals. But as it stands this morning, House District 180 is still in play.

I was asked by a friend today if Sainz should be worried about the runoff because his lead over the second place candidate is so large. The premise of the question is that with Sainz coming in at 49.68% that his lead is insurmountable. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it ain’t.

Recent history has shown us that a candidate can get a little as 18% of the vote in a primary election, make a runoff, and win. That’s the scenario that saw Congressman Andrew Clyde get elected in 2020. Granted, in that race the first place finisher in the first round, State Rep Matt Gurtler only received 21%. In another race with similar results to House District 180, David Shafer got 48.9% before being forced into a runoff by Geoff Duncan who received 26.7%. Of course, Duncan would go on to become the Lieutenant Governor. And David Shafer… well…

When it comes to runoffs, anything can and will happen.

The challenge for Rep. Sainz will be in getting his voters back to the polls at a time when voters are showing little interest in participating this year. Turnout in Sainz’s home county of Camden was a paltry 15.71%. While House District 180 also serves a portion of Glynn County, turnout there was worse at 11.5%.

A report by Kennesaw State University shows us that with few exceptions, turnout in runoffs drops off significantly. I am willing to predict that will certainly be the case here because it will be the only race on the runoff ballot. Which means Sainz is in real jeopardy.

There is, of course, an easy fix to this problem: Instant runoffs.

It is not a stretch to think that if the voters in House District 180 had the opportunity to rank their choices, Sainz would have gotten at least 20 more votes as a second choice and secured his victory last night. The voters who voted yesterday would also not have their ballots discarded as if they were never cast, thus disenfranchising them. The tax payers of Camden and Glynn Counties would not have to pay the significant cost of holding a runoff when turnout is likely to be around 10%. Another benefit: we would already know the winner today, as opposed to having to wait a month to see who won.

Republicans should be looking at races like Sainz’s and pushing back on the misinformation and disinformation propaganda campaign against instant runoffs. I have not seen a single convincing, data driven argument that Georgia’s runoff system is in any way superior to moving to an instant runoff. It would give Georgia a more representative result, cost less to the taxpayers, shorten the amount of time we all suffer through during runoffs, and we get our winners declared in a day instead of a month.

A Sainz victory last night could have been as easy as 1,2,3. Instead we get what will be a month long, painful campaign that is almost certainly going to get nasty.

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