A brief history of Georgia’s runoff voting – and how this year's contest between two Black men is a sign of progress

In the U.S., all elections are administered by the states. But not all states use the same rules.

Georgia uses a version of runoff voting, which entails two rounds of voting. Typically, if a candidate wins more than 50% of the votes in the first round, that candidate is declared the winner. If not, the two candidates with the most first-round votes face off in a second round of voting.

There’s historically been concern that such a runoff system disadvantages Black candidates. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney General John R. Dunne once argued that Georgia’s runoff voting system has had “a demonstrably chilling effect on the ability of Blacks to become candidates for public office.”

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina similarly argues that runoff voting has “purposefully diluted Black votes” and has been successful at “keeping Black candidates from reaching elected office.”

Yet on Dec. 6, 2022, Georgians will vote in a runoff election between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker – both of whom are African American men.

So, is runoff voting racist? Or isn’t it?