Testimony from:
Matthew Germer, Elections Fellow, R Street Institute

In SUPPORT of HB 1085, “AN ACT relating to primaries and elections generally, so as to provide for the option for municipalities to adopt and use instant runoff voting for their elections.”

February 22, 2022

House Governmental Affairs Committee
Special Subcommittee on Redistricting and Elections

Chair Taylor, Vice Chair Mainor and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for considering my testimony. My name is Matthew Germer, and I conduct research on election reform for the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government across a variety of policy areas, including election reform. This is why House Bill 1085 is important to us.

When it comes to election reform, state legislatures should be focused on improving the voting experience for all eligible voters while ensuring trustworthy elections. House Bill 1085 represents such an improvement by providing municipalities the option to implement instant runoff voting (IRV) for their elections.

In an IRV election, voters express their preferences by rank-ordering the candidates. Voters answer more than just “who is your favorite candidate?” Rather, they answer “how do you feel about each candidate relative to the others?” The difference between these questions may seem subtle, but the result is substantially more voice for the voter. If voters are comfortable with more than one candidate, they can say so. If they prefer a lesser-known candidate, they can show support without worrying about the “spoiler effect.” And because the IRV vote-tallying system will continue until one candidate reaches majority support, voters have more opportunities to contribute to that victory. [1] In short, IRV empowers voters.

Moreover, IRV also benefits candidates and campaigns over the long term, which in turn benefits voters. Elections are often referred to as “the only polls that matter,” and IRV functions as a far more sophisticated “poll” than a traditional plurality election. [2] By showing voters’ preferences between candidates, IRV allows voters to communicate more information about what policies, messages and temperaments they want to see from candidates and campaigns. That information can be used to improve campaigns and governance as elected officials better understand their constituents.

In addition to the value it brings to voters and candidates, IRV provides a particular benefit for Georgia elections by eliminating the need for separate runoff elections. Under O.C.G.A. § 21-2-501, one candidate must receive a majority of votes cast in the general election or a runoff election must be held between the top two candidates. [3] IRV improves upon this system by eliminating the follow-up election and thus providing a substantial savings both for election administrators and candidates. Perhaps most importantly to everyday Georgians, IRV eliminates the need for another month of political advertisements, a persistent frustration for voters who are already exhausted after the general election. [4] Instead, IRV provides instant and final results.

Although IRV would bring a number of substantial benefits, some may worry that a new voting system will be confusing for voters. Fortunately, IRV has become more common across the country, giving researchers like me a chance to explore if, and where, confusion exists. Ultimately, my research shows that voters are not confused by IRV ballots, and instead they are highly likely to take advantage of its rank-ordering features. [5]

IRV provides citizens a more effective way to communicate through voting and thereby nudges our democracy in a healthier direction. Moreover, Georgia’s existing reliance on runoff elections makes it ideally situated to extract the most value from IRV. House Bill 1085 would provide municipalities the opportunity to begin to extract that value. As a result, we urge the committee to support House Bill 1085.

Thank you for your time,

Matthew Germer
Elections Fellow
R Street Institute
(714) 609-6288
[email protected]

[1] Matthew Germer, “Restoring Losers’ Consent: A Necessary Step to Stabilizing Our Democracy,” R Street Policy Study No. 240, September 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Final-No.-240.pdf.

[2] Diane Francis, “The only poll that matters is the one on U.S. Election day – all other polls are concoctions,” Financial Post, Sept. 23, 2016. https://financialpost.com/diane-francis/diane-francis-the-only-poll-that-matters-is-the-one-on-u-s-election-day-all-other-polls-are-concoctions.

[3] Ga. Code Ann § 21-2-501 (2021). https://codes.findlaw.com/ga/title-21-elections/ga-code-sect-21-2-501.html.

[4] Sarah D. Wire, “Georgians can’t escape political ads ahead of high-stakes Senate runoffs,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 31, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-12-31/georgians-cant-escape-political-ads-ahead-of-high-stakes-senate-runoffs.

[5] Matthew Germer, “An Analysis of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine,” R Street Shorts No. 106, September 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Final-Short-106.pdf.

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