Testimony from:

Marc Hyden, Director, State Government Affairs, R Street Institute

In SUPPORT of HB 200, “An Act To amend Chapter 2 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, 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 7, 2023

House Government Affairs Committee

Chairman and members of the committee,

My name is Marc Hyden. I am a Georgia resident and the director of state government affairs 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 in many areas, including electoral reform. This is why HB 200 is of special interest to us.

While I am immensely proud to be a Georgian, one of my grievances is that at times it feels like campaign season is a year-round event. Unlike some other states, Georgia law requires prospective candidates to reach a majority of votes to win their election outright. Failure to clear that threshold triggers a run-off weeks later, and Georgia has witnessed numerous high-profile run-offs.[1] We even have one scheduled to fill House District 119.[2]

The problems with our current model are two-fold. First, an extended campaign season means Georgians are subjected to even more political advertisements, campaign mailers, door-knockers and sometimes political attacks. As someone who has worked in campaigns, I appreciate and value get-out-the-vote operations, but it can become too much.

Second, elections are expensive. A 2017 study found that elections in 26 states cost over $8 per voter, which quickly adds up to a massive sum.[3] The cost has almost certainly gone up since, and the cost per capita could be even higher in run-offs, considering historically low turnout. Moreover, another study found that “statewide runoffs [in Louisiana] cost almost as much as the first-round election, doubling voting expenditures and amounting to $5 million spent each time.”[4]

While the instant runoff voting (IRV) proposal before you does not deal with state-wide elections, it is a smart reform—permitting municipalities to decide whether to eliminate traditional runoffs and adopt IRV for local elections. It would do so while still requiring candidates to reach a majority threshold and preserving conservative principles.

Such a measure provides a more fiscally responsible method of deciding elections and preserves the home rule principle—giving localities the liberty to decide what works best for their community and allowing them to act as the laboratories of democracy. As a result, if passed, this could inform state lawmakers whether IRV would be a viable option for state offices. The current evidence suggests that it is, given that it has been successfully used elsewhere.

As such, I encourage lawmakers to approve HB 200, give voters a respite from never-ending campaigns and political ads, provide localities a cheaper option of voting and maintain the majority threshold.

Thank you,

Marc Hyden
Director, State Government Affairs
R Street Institute
(404) 918-2731
[email protected]

[1] Bill Barrow, “2022 Georgia Senate Runoff Election Results,” PBS, Dec. 5, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/2022-georgia-senate-runoff-election-results.

[2] Mark Niesse, “Chastain wins race for former Speaker Ralston’s Georgia House seat,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 31, 2023. https://www.ajc.com/politics/georgia-special-election-results-chastain-defeats-ralston-in-runoff/JHHUHCXK2VF2JMFDDDQVZCIDQY.

[3] Zach Mohr et al., “How Much Are We Spending on Election Administration?” MIT Election Data + Science Lab, 2017. https://electionlab.mit.edu/sites/default/files/2019-01/mohr_et_al_2017summary.pdf.

[4] Gabriella Lewis, “New Study Reveals Runoffs Are Consistently Expensive, Uncompetitive, and Yield Low Turnout,” FairVote, July 22, 2021. https://fairvote.org/new_study_reveals_runoffs_are_consistently_expensive_uncompetitive_and_yield_low_turnout.