Four people sitting behind podium desk behind computers talking in a courtroom with an American flag in the background.
The chairmen of the General Assembly's two budget committees, discuss during a hearing. (Arvin Temkar/AJC)

Most Georgia voters want to ditch runoffs that lead to seemingly endless election seasons, according to a new poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

About 58% of those surveyed said Georgia should eliminate the requirement for a runoff election when no candidate in a general election wins a majority, while 39% preferred keeping the state’s existing system.

The poll also found support for legalizing sports betting, a preference for state spending on public services rather than tax rebates, and backing for fewer restrictions on abortion.

The AJC surveyed Georgians on their priorities as legislators craft new laws at the state Capitol this year. They ranked the economy/jobs as the state’s single most important issue, followed by crime/public safety and health care.

An overwhelming majority of poll respondents — 90% — said Georgia should create laws that set minimum living requirements for rental properties.

Georgia has some of the weakest renter-protection laws in the United States, with conditions that fail to provide for basic human needs and foster crime-ridden apartment complexes, according to the AJC’s investigative “Dangerous Dwellings” series.

A group tours the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Runoff tipping point

Georgia is the only state that requires runoffs after both primary and general elections, and voters returned to the polls for U.S. Senate runoffs last December and two years ago. Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock bested Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a general election runoff on Dec. 6.

Most other states decide winners of elections based on whoever receives the most votes, even if they don’t win more than 50% of the total in contests that include Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans.

LaShawn Butler, a Lithonia resident who has worked in the nursing industry, said the state should get rid of the runoff requirements.

“Even if it’s not the person that I voted for, if that person is leading, then I feel like they should be the one that wins,” she said.

The poll showed that voters — by a margin of 19 percentage points — would rather end runoffs entirely. Respondents who identified themselves as liberals most strongly opposed runoffs, but most conservatives and moderates also backed their elimination.

Georgia legislators are discussing proposals to determine general elections based on a plurality as long as the top candidate wins at least 45% of the vote, or moving to a system called ranked-choice voting, in which voters pick their second-choice candidates upfront in the general election. The runoff process would remain the same in primary and special elections.

Others said they’d rather keep Georgia’s current runoff system because it requires candidates to prove they have the backing of a majority in such a closely divided state.

Spending vs. tax cuts

One of the biggest debates this legislative session will be over what to do with the state’s surplus, with more Georgians supporting spending increases than tax rebates, according to those polled.

The survey found that 48% of respondents would rather spend the money on items such as education or health care, while 41% said the money should be returned to citizens through tax refunds.

“There are too many things that need to be funded that aren’t, like education, health care and roads, and if we have that money we should be using it rather than giving it back to taxpayers,” said Julie Lissard, a retired technology professional from Johns Creek.

Gov. Brian Kemp, with his family following his inauguration earlier this month. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Georgia had a $6.6 billion surplus from the 2022 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed income and property tax rebates, pay raises for teachers, increased school funding, worker training in the electric-vehicle industry and health insurance programs through his proposed state budget.

Sports gambling

While a plurality of those polled said the state should expand gambling laws to allow betting on professional sports, support has dropped since the AJC last queried voters in 2020.

About 48% of those polled this year said Georgia should legalize gambling on professional sports, while about 37% of respondents said they oppose allowing it. About 57% of those polled in 2020 said they supported legalizing sports betting.

It’s been more than four years since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for states to legalize sports betting, and though there has been legislation introduced in every legislative session since, those efforts have failed to make it out of the Georgia Capitol.

Poll participants contacted by the AJC said they support allowing sports betting in Georgia if the money is going to be spent in a good way, such as for education programs like the HOPE scholarship or for needs-based scholarships.

“I’m not a bettor, but if they allow gambling, it should be fair and should be taxed,” said Dawn Evans, a Thomson resident who works in manufacturing. “I’m all for it if it will be able to benefit some people who need help.”

Abortion

Georgia voters polled by the AJC were split on how restrictive access to abortion should be, though almost half said the state should make it easier to get the procedure.

Georgia law prohibits most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, which is typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant. Previously, Georgia allowed most abortions up until about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

In the poll, about 49% of those asked said they think Georgia should make it easier to obtain an abortion. About 24% said regulations should stay the way they are, and an additional 21% said it should be more difficult to get an abortion. The rest of the respondents didn’t offer an opinion.

Damon Farmer, a truck driver who lives in Macon, said Georgia should make it easier to get an abortion.

“I’m not advocating for abortion, but then again I don’t know what a woman might have going on that she might need to have an abortion,” he said. “That’s a decision that’s between a woman and her doctor, not the Georgia Legislature or the church — they shouldn’t be in it.”


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