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Georgia Republicans Introduced Runoffs To Suppress Black Votes. Now They Want To Change the Rules

A table lined with Georgia voter stickers on a peach logo

Eight days since Senator Raphael Warnock won his re-election, and now that Georgia is a firmly competitive state, Republicans in the state want to change the voting rules again. On December 14, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) stated that Georgia is looking to do away with the runoff system entirely. As a refresher, the Georgia runoff is a second election that’s triggered after a general election if no one gets more than 50% of the vote. Raffensperger cited the strain on election officials bleeding into the holiday season, but a better reason to get rid of it is that it’s a policy created during the Civil Rights movement to water down Black voting blocks.

While the process was a largely Republican effort led by segregationist state legislators, Denmark Groover shoulders much responsibility for this policy. To know what kind of man he is, know that Groover, for decades, was best known as the man that got the Confederate battle flag put on the Georgia state flag in 1952. He later admitted that this was a direct response to the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation. Historian Morgan Kousser explained to PBS NewsHour that the runoff policy is one of many policies to curb the political power of Black voters after a disputed election in 1958 in Macon involving Groover.

Why did the runoffs begin?

Groover pushed for a probe of block voting to see if the belief that Black Georgians voted against him as a group was true. Sure, many white people didn’t like him either, but knowing that people he saw as inferior to him voted together against less racist, white candidates was too much for Groover. When he was elected to the state legislature in 1962, Groover co-authored the legislation requiring over 50% of the vote as a direct attack on the “Negro voting bloc.” Nearly two decades later, Groover would state in a deposition:

I was a segregationist. I was a county unit man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced, I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was.

Anyways, Groover’s manipulative tactic worked, and it was one of many racists voting policies that limited Black civic engagement. This is also why many places will not allow people to be bussed to the polls or allow early voting on Sunday. Many Black voters come together after church and vote. Working-class people (regardless of race) face voter suppression when they’re required to vote again because of a runoff like this.

Getting rid of the runoff and replacing it with something like ranked-choice voting or just needing a simple majority—both of which have been floated by Raffensperger—could increase voter engagement from everyone in the long term and not just Democrats. However, I highly doubt they’ll take this route, considering how hard Raffensperger made it to vote in the general elections and the runoffs.

(featured image: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.