Runoffs mostly in the South

LAWRENCEVILLE -- It's been rare lately for the Gwinnett GOP to decide its nominees for county commission without a runoff.

So once again, locals will go back to the polls to choose between the top two vote-getters in a primary election.

This time not only will they choose the Republican candidates for commission, but for governor, Congress and more.

"If you are one of those who turn up and vote, you have much more influence," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

Georgia is one of only seven states in which a candidate has to get more than 50 percent of the vote to make it to a general election ballot. It is the only state to hold a runoff if no one gets more than 50 percent in a general election.

There are positives and negatives to runoffs, Bullock said, with the biggest upside being a person has to win the majority of votes at some point to be elected.

Without a runoff, the GOP candidate in the race for Georgia's insurance commissioner could have been given the nod with only 20 percent of the vote, he noted.

The downside, though, besides money, is the small percentage of voters who actually make the decision.

Turnout for runoffs varies widely, mostly because of interest in the race. Bullock used the example of general runoffs in 2006 and 2008.

Four years ago, only 1.91 percent of Gwinnett's electorate came out to decide a Public Service Commissioner race, while two years ago the possibility of a filibuster-free Senate sent out nearly 40 percent of voters for the re-election of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

The money, though, is nothing to shrug off. Gwinnett Elections Director Lynn Ledford said Tuesday's local primary runoff will cost between $675,000 and $750,000, even though the number of workers and equipment has been downgraded.

Since 1980, there has been a primary runoff every two years, so Ledford simply budgets for the extra election.

While about 21 percent of voters participated in last month's primary, Ledford expects about 12 percent to show up Tuesday.

The vast majority will be for the Republican ticket -- where the gubernatorial battle and the first open District 7 congressional seat in nearly two decades are up for grabs, along with attorney general, insurance commissioner and public service commissioners, the two commission seats and a local House seat.

Democrats will decide their nomination for secretary of state and a local House seat.

"If that governor's race wasn't on the ballot, I don't believe we would have (many) people coming out to vote," she said. "It's hard to tell right now."

Bullock is less optimistic. He said he would be surprised to see 10 percent of voters statewide for both parties, although he noted that local races often bring more interest.

"The more things on the ballot, the more likely there will be something there that will entice people to the polls," he said.