Sankofa Studies

The Racist Roots of Georgia’s Runoff System

January 4, 2021

I think I speak for the entire Georgia delegation when I say we are tiyad. As a country, we made our way to November 2020 (finally) and elected a new President (thankGawd). After days, weeks, and MONTHS of counting, recounting, hand counting, and machine counting Georgia flipped (whether Colt 45 wants to acknowledge it or not). So Biden won Georgia. Great. But Georgia wasn’t done with election season. Why? Why have we been the lucky winners of a prolonged campaign season, text messages, attack ads, phone calls and the entire country looking at US to save the nation? Because Georgia has a runoff system. In a runoff system, no candidate can advance without getting more than 50% of the vote. The two candidates who get the most votes face each other in a runoff. Usually, it’s not a huge thing. But this time it is because the fate of the Senate rests with the people of Georgia. *insert deep sigh here* So…how did we get here? Why do we have this runoff system? I am glad you asked. The short answer is racism. For the long answer, keep reading.

We all know that the Electoral College, like many things, is deeply rooted in racism and slavery. Back in the day, Georgia had a little mini Electoral College-ish system too – so that the rural areas could have power and continue to restrict Black voters. It was called the county unit system. But, in 1962, the Georgia Supreme Court struck that system down because it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The system caused the votes of the rural counties to count more heavily than the votes of urban areas – very unconstitutional. So how were the people in power going to make sure that they stayed in power? They had to come up with a new and improved system of voter suppression. And they did just that. In walks Denmark Groover.

Denmark Groover was a state representative who represented Macon. He was salty because he had lost an election back in 1958. He blamed his loss on the “Negro bloc voting” (like…how dare those Negroes vote?!) Basically he won the white vote, but his opponent won all of the Black vote and he lost. He was elected to the House again in 1962 and after the county unit system was struck down, he appeared with a proposal to help Georgia remain racist. Groover came up with the plan and advocated for a majority vote, runoff rule for all county and state contest in both primary and general elections. The following year, the runoff election idea became law. Everyone knew that this would severely impact African-American voting power. Later in life, Groover admitted that he was racist and the runoff system was racially motivated. “I was a segregationist. I was a county unit man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced. I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was.” I don’t know what led him to that confession, but…ok. A DeKalb County representative who supported Groover “remembered Groover saying on the House floor: ‘[W]e have got to go the majority vote because all we have to have is a plurality and the Negroes and the pressure groups and special interests are going to manipulate this State and take charge if we don’t go for the majority vote.”

There you have it.

For my fellow Georgians, yall go out and vote today. Some people have dedicated their entire lives to making sure your vote doesn’t count. Make sure it does!


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