Georgia on the nation’s mind: 5 essential reads
Shortly after his reelection on Dec. 6, 2022, Rev. Raphael Warnock talked about his political journey in a state better known for its racist history of suppressing the Black vote.
“I am Georgia,” Warnock said. “A living example and embodiment of its history and its hope, of its pain and promise, the brutality and possibility.”
Warnock’s senate campaign against his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, occurred at a time when Georgia voters faced a slew of new election law reforms that the state’s lawmakers said were necessary to protect election integrity. But civil rights advocates characterized the reforms as the latest version of suppression efforts targeting Black voters.
During his speech, Warnock was clear on his position.
“The fact that millions of Georgians endured hours in lines … that wrapped around buildings and went on for blocks, lines in the cold, lines in the rain, is most certainly not a sign voter suppression does not exist,” Warnock said. “Instead, it is proof that you, the people, will not allow your voices to be silenced.”
As the campaign unfolded, The Conversation published several articles looking at the history of voting in Georgia and how race has played a significant role in shaping the state’s election laws.
1. New election reforms
Georgia’s GOP lawmakers overhauled the state’s election laws in 2021 – and critics argued that the target was Black voter turnout, not election fraud as claimed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other white conservative politicians.
Emory University Political Science Professor Richard Doner details the shameful history and breaks down the key changes in the state’s new voting law, SB 202, that emerged at a time of growing Black political power and GOP unproven conspiracy theories on election fraud.
Georgia’s GOP overhauled the state’s election laws in 2021 – and critics argue the target was Black voter turnout, not election fraud
2. Runoff elections usually produce better policies
Despite its racist history, Georgia’s runoff voting process is not inherently racist – as the 2022 campaign demonstrated with two Black men running against each other.
In fact, argues Westminster College Assistant Political Science Professor Joshua Holzer, runoff voting tends to produce better policies.
“This is because,” Holzer writes, “runoff elections often favor candidates who lean to the center, and center-leaning candidates seem to be more likely to respect human rights and provide better representation of a larger portion of the electorate.”
A brief history of Georgia’s runoff voting – and how this year’s contest between two Black men is a sign of progress
3. Georgia’s national importance
With Warnock’s victory, the Democrats control the Senate with 51 of the 100 seats and no longer need a deciding vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties in order to pass bills that support their legislative agenda.
But as political science scholar Richard Hargy explains, the campaign stood as another test of the influence former president Donald Trump holds within the Republican Party and as “an opportunity to improve their Senate seat tally ahead of a difficult election cycle in 2024.”
Georgia’s runoff election: why the result is so important to Biden and Trump
4. Runoffs elections have a cost
In Georgia, if no candidate receives 50% of the general election vote, there’s a runoff between the top two vote-getters.
And those races are expensive, writes political science professor John A. Tures.
Though the final tally for the 2022 runoff is not completed, in 2020, the campaigns cost at least $75 million statewide.
Despite the expense, runoff elections have an impact on voter turnout – and not for the better.
“The only consistent trend is that the runoff elections drew fewer voters than the general elections that preceded them,” Tures writes.
Georgia runoff elections are exciting, but costly for voters and democracy
5. Weak celebrity political candidates
In addition to race, another factor played a part in the Georgia campaign – Walker’s celebrity status.
Political science scholar Richard T. Longoria explains that while celebrity candidates have advantages in name recognition and media attention, they often lose their bids for public office.
“They lose for the same reasons other candidates lose,” Longoria writes. “If they take unpopular policy positions, they lose. If they are never considered to be serious candidates, they lose.”
Celebrities in politics have a leg up, but their advantages can’t top fundraising failures
Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.