Another Chatham County election has come and gone. The 2021 ballot was one of the shortest in recent memory, with the majority of residents only having to vote for one county measure.
Chatham County Election 2021 results: Jackson headed to Georgia House, ESPLOST measure passes
Residents in several municipalities did have more than the countywide education sales tax, or ESPLOST, referendum to vote on. And in Port Wentworth, Tuesday's results pointed toward a runoff in one city council race, where none of the three candidates received a majority.
Only, for Port Wentworth and municipalities across the county — with the exception of the City of Savannah — there are no runoffs. The top vote getter wins the seat.
Georgia is one of the few states that requires runoffs for state-level offices, and many local governments have adopted the practice as well. To win a seat on Savannah City Council, the Chatham County Commission and the Savannah-Chatham School Board, a candidate must receive at least 50% plus one vote to win.
This also applies to U.S. House and U.S. Senate races, as we saw last year with two Senate runoffs.
When that happens, the top two vote getters advance to a head-to-head second-round election. When the runoff is held depends on the election year and type of race, according to Georgia Code.
State law also offers guidelines on election rules. By statute, Savannah is the only municipality where candidates are required to win by majority vote. The law dictates that cities with over 100,000 residents run their elections this way. Savannah has about 147,000 residents according to 2020 census data.
In smaller municipalities, the rule can be skirted as long as their city charter explicitly states that runners can win on a plurality — in other words, win as long as they receive more votes than their competitors.
That's what happened in Port Wentworth, where Rufus Bright beat out challengers Janet Hester and incumbent Lynwood Griner with 44% of the vote. Hester received 35% and Griner staked 20%. Port Wentworth has a population of about 10,800,
The difference between winning by majority vs. plurality can play a vital part in an election's outcome.
Take, for example, this year's most competitive race, Garden City's District 5 council seat. The election would've been a much closer call if the winner had to have won by a majority.
Two-term incumbent Kim Tice received 204 of the 380 votes (53%) in a four-candidate race, according to the preliminary count, which does not account for all mail-in ballots. The runner-up, newcomer Corey Foreman, claimed 90 votes.
The final two candidates, Todd Payne and Chris Figiel, both received about 40 or 10% of the total vote.
The rest of Chatham County's municipalities — Tybee Island, Bloomingdale, Thunderbolt, Pooler and Vernonburg — all elect their candidates and mayor at-large, a system written into their respective city charters, which means candidates who win the most votes are elected to council.
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nancyguann.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah is the only city in Chatham County, GA to hold election runoffs