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Ruing Senate Loss, Georgia GOP asks if second-round rule changes backfired

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As Georgia Democrats won their third Senate runoff in two years, the party proved it had crafted an effective strategy to triumph in a decades-old system created to maintain segregationist power and overcome a series efforts to make voting more difficult. Republicans, meanwhile, quietly cursed the second-round system, or at least their strategy for winning under a state law they drafted after losing the last election.

The differing postmortems over how Georgia’s runoff rules shaped the state Senate result on Tuesday shed light on a major election law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly last year. Some Republicans acknowledged that their efforts to limit in-person early voting days could have backfired, while others encouraged lawmakers to consider additional restrictions next year.

With Georgia poised to remain a critical political battleground and Republicans holding gerrymandered majorities in both houses of its state legislature, some party members said further changes to election law are needed. probable.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who oversees state voting procedures, said in an interview Wednesday that there will be debate next year about potential adjustments to the state’s runoff laws and procedures. Georgia after Senator Raphael Warnock’s victory.

Mr Raffensperger said he would present three proposals to lawmakers. They include forcing larger counties to open more early voting locations to reduce long lines like those that formed at many metro Atlanta sites last week; lowering the threshold candidates must meet to avoid a second round to 45% from 50%; and instituting a ranked-choice instant ballot system that would not require voters to return to the polls after the general election.

“Elected legislators need information so they can look at all the different options available to them and really see what they’re comfortable with,” Raffensperger said.

Republicans aren’t the only ones hoping to end Georgia’s demand for a runoff if no candidate in the general election wins at least half the vote. Democrats have long viewed the practice — a holdover from racist 1960s efforts to bar black candidates or candidates backed by black voters from taking office — as an additional barrier for working-class people of color.

Park Cannon, a Democratic statewoman from Atlanta who was arrested last year after knocking on the closed door behind which Gov. Brian Kemp signed the state’s election law, said last Friday, she had driven for 30 minutes, then waited an hour to vote. early in person.

The runoff, Ms Cannon said, “does not benefit working families”. She added: “It is very difficult, within four weeks of taking leave to vote, to have to do this again.”

Since the law was passed in 2021, Democrats in Georgia have criticized the new barriers to voting it put in place. During the run-off, Mr. Warnock, a Democrat, spared no opportunity to highlight the law and characterize it as the latest in a decades-long campaign to downplay the influence of black voters and anyone else. opposes Republican control.

His stump speech featured a regular refrain reminding supporters that Republicans in Georgia had sought to bar counties from opening early in-person voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, after the state’s Republican attorney general and Mr. Raffensperger concluded that this was in violation of the rule of law. Mr Warnock and Democrats sued and a state judge agreed to allow the Saturday vote.

“People showed up in record numbers within the tight confines of the time allotted to them by a state legislature that saw our electoral force for the last time and pursued it with surgical precision,” Mr. Warnock in his victory speech Tuesday night in Atlanta. “The fact that voters worked so hard to overcome the hardships that were thrust upon them does not eliminate the fact that the hardships were put there in the first place.”

Due to new election law, Tuesday’s runoff took place four weeks after the general election, rather than the nine-week period in which Georgia’s high-profile Senate races took place in early 2021. The nine-week run-off period that year had been ordered by a federal judge; runoff contests for state elections have historically operated on a four-week schedule.

Tuesday’s contest also included fewer days to vote and new restrictions on mail-in ballots – and it ended with virtually the same result.

The 3.5 million votes cast in Tuesday’s runoff represented 90% of the general election turnout in the Nov. 8 Senate race. In 2021, when Mr Warnock first won his seat, turnout in the second round was 91% of the general election turnout. , which was higher because 2020 was a presidential year. The influx of voters in both years was an order of magnitude higher than in any previous Georgia runoff.

Soaring voter turnout this year has led Republicans in Georgia to insist that their election law was not repressive.

“We had what I think was an almost flawless execution of two huge elections in terms of turnout and in terms of accuracy and integrity,” said Butch Miller, a Republican leader in the Georgia State Senate who helped draft election law and left the chamber after losing the lieutenant governor’s primary.

Mr Miller said he “didn’t care” how some counties, including large Democratic-leaning counties in the Atlanta area, had opened up extra early voting days, a sentiment echoed by d other Georgia Republicans after Mr. Warnock’s victory.

The new law obviously had an effect on the vote of Georgians. In the January 2021 run-off, 24% of votes were obtained through mail-in ballots that had been mailed to voters. Only 5% of votes were mailed in on Tuesday, due to restrictions on who can receive an absentee ballot and a shortened run-off period, which made it more difficult to apply for and receive ballots. a ballot within the allotted time.

The 2021 law also reduced the number of in-person early voting days to a minimum of five, but allowed Georgia counties to add more days before the state-mandated early voting week. The Warnock campaign has pressed Democratic counties across the state to open early voting the weekend after Thanksgiving, giving voters most likely to vote for the senator extra days to do so.

But then Mr. Raffensperger sought to enforce a state law that prohibits in-person early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which led to the success of Mr. Warnock’s lawsuit.

Jason Shepherd, former Cobb County Republican Party chairman, said the push to stop Saturday’s vote “wasn’t worth the fight” and served to energize Democratic voters.

“You may be absolutely right and it may send the wrong message because it plays into the Democrats’ voter suppression narrative,” Shepherd said on Wednesday.

Ultimately, 28 of Georgia’s 159 counties opened additional in-person early voting days. Of these, 17 ended up backing Mr Warnock and 11 opted for his Republican challenger, former football star Herschel Walker.

Compared to weekdays, when the entire state was open for in-person early voting, relatively few votes were cast on additional voting days. Just over 167,000 total votes were cast on the Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, as well as the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday, when only two counties opened voting. By contrast, 285,000 to 352,000 votes were cast statewide each weekday early voting day.

But voters who voted during those extra days of in-person early voting were likely to lean heavily towards Mr Warnock.

The 14 largest counties to support Mr. Warnock – including seven in metro Atlanta – have all opened for additional early voting days. Only two of the 11 largest counties to support Mr. Walker have opened additional days of in-person early voting.

mayan king contributed report.

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