Why does Georgia have runoffs? We look into the law that made them happen

You’ve seen the ads by now and know a shift of power is on the line in January’s runoff election.

What you might not be aware of is the law that created runoffs in Georgia in the first place.

A Republican candidate came close to winning the governor’s race in 1966. Democrats in the legislature quickly passed a law that required statewide races to be settled by a clear majority even if that requires a general election runoff, which we have this year.

Republican incumbent David Perdue got 88,000 votes more than Democrat Jon Ossoff on Nov. 3, but he didn’t get a majority.

Without the requirement that the winner gets 50% plus one vote…

“David Purdue would be planning to spend the holidays with family and friends and not out on the campaign trail,” said Prof. Charles Bullock with the University of Georgia. “We’re the only state that does it quite like this.”

The law backfired on Georgia democrats in 1992.


Incumbent Sen. Wyche Fowler got more votes than his Republican opponent but not a clear majority.

Political analyst Bill Crane said even Fowler didn’t initially appreciate that he faced a runoff, which he ultimately lost.

“He got 49% of the vote and had been declared the victor by all of the three major news networks and cable news networks. He thought he’d won reelection only to find that that law also applied to Senate contests,” Crane said.

Incumbent Rep. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was forced into a runoff in 2008, but he held onto this seat three weeks later.

It’s a different landscape in this year’s Perdue-Ossoff runoff. A federal court ruling requires that Georgia now wait nine weeks before voting again.

Crane suspects that will reduce what had been a Republican advantage in late runoffs.

“We’ll see probably a 50% drop off and the number of voters, so it’s a base turn out election. So with Stacey Abrams’ organization Fair Fight Georgia and the database they’ve built, I’d say that very much evens the odds,” Crane said.

Crane notes that the Democrats in the General Assembly in 1967 thought they were passing a law that would help Democrats.

We’ll see Jan. 5 -- or perhaps a few days later -- whether that is finally the case.