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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Racism is why there was a primary in Georgia yesterday

   Today Georgia voters go back to the polls a little over 2 months from voting for their senators in November.  I began to wonder why Georgia has a runoff in statewide elections when no candidate gets 50% of the vote.   I wasn't surprised to learn that it was because of race.  I also learned that other southern states developed similar systems to ensure that only white candidates would be elected.   The system has already worked in this way to prevent Rev. Raphael Warnock, a black candidate, from having been elected in November.  Because the white vote was split between two conservative white candidates Rev. Warnock received the most votes in November.  Here is how an article in the Washington Post described how the system was created. 

    "Southern states started implementing runoff systems in the late 19th and early 20th Century when state parties used to run primary elections. Democrats controlled the South then; when a constitutional amendment allowed for the direct election of senators in 1914, Democrats held every Senate seat in the South. So the runoff system, first adopted by South Carolina in the late 1800s in order to exert more control over gubernatorial primaries, allowed party bosses to select nominees.
    At the time, literacy tests, poll taxes and other hurdles to voting kept African Americans away from the ballot box. And because the Republican Party was such a small percentage of the overall electorate in the South, general elections mattered far less than primaries; the winner of a primary was virtually guaranteed to win the general election. “The Democratic Party had a monopoly on politics in the region,” said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University. “After blacks were eliminated as voters in the South, that ended the Republican Party.” The African American voters who did remain on the voter rolls were energized in the years following the Civil War, said Cal Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas.  Democrats, who used to nominate candidates in conventions, began to move to primaries and runoffs as a way to unite the factions that split the party, and thus to head into a general election with an advantage against Republicans.
     The major challenge, in several states, came from the Populist Party, which held similar views to Democrats on race, and therefore was acceptable to white voters, but served as an outlet for voters unhappy with the Democratic Party, said Morgan Kousser, an expert in Southern politics at California Institute of Technology. “The primaries were an attempt both to enlarge the group that awarded the nomination, but also to provide an opportunity for whites if they factionalized to come back during a runoff,” Jillson said. In at least one state, Arkansas, runoff elections were established in an effort to marginalize a different faction of the Democratic Party: The Ku Klux Klan. Arkansas implemented runoff voting in the 1930s specifically in order to keep Klan members from winning party primaries with small pluralities, Bullock said. But most states established the runoff to maintain white Democratic domination of local politics. Letters and speeches that survive from the period show race was very much on the minds of those Democrats who advocated the primary-runoff process. “People had no misgivings about stating their real intentions and stating them in racial terms,” Jillson said. “The stuff that no longer passes Anglo lips, they were more than comfortable in saying.”
    Today, Mississippi is one of seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas are the other six — that require a runoff election if no candidate receives an absolute majority in a primary election. "

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