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Runoff system too costly in a time of tight money

J.K. Murphy 

J.K. Murphy 

Tuesday’s election has me thinking.

With government scratching for every dime in these austere times, the state of Georgia could find a bonanza in switching its election process.

Only Georgia and seven other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas) use the runoff election system that requires winning candidates to garner an absolute majority of votes. Especially in primary elections where the vote is split among multi-candidates, getting half plus one is difficult.

Such was the case in Georgia on Tuesday. None of the seven candidates for the Republican nomination for governor earned a majority of votes. Republicans must also return to the polls to pick a nominee for attorney general, insurance commissioner and public service commissioner. Democrats must nominate a candidate for secretary of state.

Closer to home, nominees for 7th District congressman, two county commission seats and two legislative posts remain up in the air. To summarize, Gwinnett County voters returning to their precincts Aug. 10 will nominate 10 candidates for the November general election.

County Elections Supervisor Lynn Ledford will tell you that Tuesday’s election drew 21 percent of the county’s 422,000 registered voters and cost somewhere between $800,000 and $1 million. In anticipation of lower turnout for the August runoff — Ledford expects about 12 percent — the cost will be about half. The county will employ 700 to 800 poll workers rather than the 1,600 hired for Tuesday and will set up fewer voting machines at each of the 156 precincts.

Still, that’s as much as $500,000 for a runoff election that drew 7.74 percent of voters in 2006 and 6.8 percent of voters in 2002. And those figures are just for Gwinnett. There are 159 counties in Georgia and all will be holding a runoff.

While we’re shaking up the election system, we should do away with elections to fill vacated offices and allow the party of the officeholder to appoint someone to the remainder of the term.

That would eliminate unneeded elections and avoid this year’s absurdity in the 9th Congressional District where voters went or will go to the polls five times in seven months (May 11, June 8, July 20, Aug. 10 and Nov. 2) to elect their congressman. No wonder voter turnout is low. They’re weary.

In recent years, Kentucky and Florida dropped the runoff election method because of the cost, time and trouble. Georgia should, too.

The state should adopt an election system where, simply put, the candidate who gets the most votes wins. What a concept.

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Here’s one that’s way outside the box: Why should taxpayers foot the bill for the parties’ nomination process? Let the parties absorb the cost of picking their nominees. The taxpayer should only have to support general elections.

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Parting thought: Tuesday’s primary ballots asked voters many questions on topics ranging from health care to immigration, a great way to take the pulse of the populace. But because each party asked different questions in different ways, we don’t get a true sense of how all Gwinnett residents feel.

What if the Republicans and the Democrats agreed to ask the same set of questions? We’d get a more accurate read on how all the voters feel about public transportation, taxes, etc.

We dare to dream.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.