What the racist Chicago Machine learned from Dixie: The run-off election.
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Voters in Chicago facing a huge field of challengers to Mayor Lightfoot might assume that we’ve always had a non-partisan election with a runoff if nobody gets 50% in the primary.
But in 1983 Harold Washington was elected Chicago’s first Black mayor as the nominee of the Democratic Party. Back then there was a party primary and then a partisan general election.
If Chicago’s nonpartisan system of elections had been in place in 1983, Harold Washington might not have become mayor.
Washington won the three-way Democratic primary against Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, with 36 percent of the vote. That was good enough to put him in the April general election against Republican Bernard Epton.
In 1986, the white leaders of the Democratic Machine looked south to the way things are done in Dixie. Their committeemen began plotting to change the system, to block Washington’s re-election.
Many Southern states held runoff elections to prevent Black candidates from winning due to a divided white vote.
The Machine figured if it works in the Old Confederacy, why not here.
In 1995, they finally got what they wanted and Springfield changed the system to a mayoral non-partisan election with a run-off.
Just like Georgia.
Yesterday’s showdown between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker was the result of the same general election runoff system that was pushed by a powerful Georgia segregationist who sought to blunt the power of Black voters in the 1960s.
Ten states use runoffs in primary elections. Georgia and Louisiana are the only two that do so in general elections. Georgia enacted their runoff in 1964 after the urging of Denmark Groover, a Georgia state politician and segregationist, who blamed Black voters for a reelection loss and proposed runoffs. Groover later acknowledged the runoff system was intended to suppress Black political representation.
While runoff elections had existed for decades in Southern primaries, Georgia’s enthusiastic adoption of two-round voting came as a way of “ensuring a conservative White candidate won an election,” said Ashton Ellett, a political historian and archivist at the University of Georgia.
“A runoff makes it harder for folks who have less resources to vote. This was before advanced in-person voting or [voting was offered] by mail and when we had many other unfair, iniquitous, undemocratic policies. It wasn’t for a partisan advantage so much as an ideological and cultural one,” Ellett said. (Washington Post)
It was just one, if effective, voter suppression tool.
With a massive organizing effort and $40 million dollars, Senator Warnock won a second term last night.
He won the primary too. He had to win the election twice.
In Chicago, the runoff system has failed the Machine too.
In the last Chicago mayoral election the candidates of the Machine all fell by the wayside with the victory of Lori Lightfoot.
Some of my friends were shocked that Georgia’s election was so close.
Georgia Republicans have discovered a limitless supply of tools for voter suppression, even when its meant limiting their own voter’s access to the polls.
But a major organizing effort worked to beat down every trick.
Kudos to all the Warnock soldiers.
In a party primary she would likely win. Nominated as a Democrat is almost a guarantee of re-election in this Democratic city. The other candidates are basically fighting for the right to face Lightfoot in the general election.
Like Raphael Warnock she will have to win twice.
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