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Supreme Court OKs Runoff Elections

May 24, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to Georgia’s requiring political candidates to attract more than 50 percent of the vote in primary elections to avoid runoffs with their closest competitor.

The justices, without comment, let stand rulings that said the majority-vote requirement does not discriminate against black voters and candidates.

The requirement affects races in which more than two candidates are vying for one post. If three people ran for the same congressional seat, the winning candidate would have to attract over 50 percent of the votes to avoid a runoff against the second-place candidate.

Eight other states require majority-vote victories in primary elections. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

Georgia long required candidates in all elections _ primary and general _ to attract a majority of the votes cast to be declared the outright winner. The state Legislature repealed that law and replaced it in 1994 with a 45-percent requirement for most general elections.

But the majority-vote requirement was kept for primary elections for members of Congress and the state Legislature, state judges and single-member county offices.

Twenty-seven black voters sued the state, contending that the majority-vote requirement for primary elections violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it had both a racially discriminatory purpose and impact.

A federal trial judge upheld the law in 1996, and a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last October.

``The majority-vote requirement ... was not motivated by a discriminatory purpose,″ the appeals court said, ruling that it also ``does not yield racially discriminatory results.″

In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for the black voters argued that ``evidence that the majority-vote requirement discouraged blacks from running for office was substantial and unrebutted.″

``By contrast,″ the appeal said, ``there was no evidence that whites were similarly discouraged from running for office.″

The case is Brooks vs. Barnes, 98-1521.

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