Georgia’s ostensibly nonpartisan judicial elections will be decided by an overwhelmingly and artificially Republican electorate. Judicial runoffs occur on the primary runoff day. In blue counties, this electorate votes about 35 points more Republican than in the November gubernatorial election. An extreme case makes this point vivid, the Clayton County election in 2014.
Clayton County is deep blue. In the 2014 Governor’s race, Carter won Clayton County by 67 points (83%-16%) while losing the state by 8 points. Nevertheless, a hypothetical, generic Republican would have been competitive in Clayton County on primary runoff day.
On primary day, both parties had top-of-the ticket races. Republicans turned out at only a slightly higher rate than Democrats, and the gubernatorial electorate was 80% Democratic and 20% Republican. Republican general election votes were about 20% more likely to turn out on primary day than Democrats, a material but not huge difference.
On runoff day, Democrats stayed home. Republicans had a U.S. Senate primary to decide, Democrats were voting only for state school board. Even in deep blue Clayton county, 3,285 Republicans voted in the Senate runoff. Conversely, only 3,790 voted in the Democratic runoff, less than 3% of all registered voters in the county. The Clayton County primary runoff electorate was 46% Republican. In Henry County, the primary runoff electorate was 88% Republican even though Democrat Jason Carter received more votes for governor in November.
Elections for State Court have a similar profile to those for State Board of Education. Some people care passionately, most have no idea of who the candidates are. This year’s Henry County State Court election will be decided by Republican partisans.
There is a strange solution. If more Democrats ran for governor or U.S. Senate, there would be a greater likelihood of a high profile Democratic runoff. Democrats should welcome new voices to their primaries in hope of forcing runoffs and bringing their voters to the polls when judgeships are decided. The present system rewards intrapartisan debate. That’s a silver lining in a very Southern storm cloud.