The Jim Crow roots of why Georgia law is requiring Raphael Warnock to stand for election twice
Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, may be building up a lead over Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker, according to a new poll. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

On Saturday, PBS News dived deep into the history of how racist laws conceived in the Jim Crow era form the origin of the Georgia runoff system, which has required Democratic Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock to stand for a second round of voting after narrowly edging out Trump-endorsed NFL veteran Herschel Walker in November by plurality.

"Since the 1960s, Georgia’s majority voting law has required a candidate get 50 percent of the vote or more in order to be declared the winner, and was introduced by a staunch segregationist legislator named Denmark Groover," wrote Nicole Ellis and Rachel Liesendahl. "Even now, the law 'makes it more difficult for any group which forms a minority in the population to elect its candidates of choice,' regardless of the candidates’ ethnicity, historian and California Institute of Technology professor Morgan Kousser told the PBS NewsHour’s Nicole Ellis."

"When so-called 'white-only primary' elections were deemed unconstitutional in 1946, Black voter registration surged across the South, including in Georgia. In 1940, an estimated 250,000 Black southerners were registered to vote and that number rose to 775,000 by 1948, according to data from the National Park Service," said the report. "When Groover lost reelection to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1958 despite winning the majority of the white vote, data from segregated polling places in Macon revealed that Black voters contributed to the upset victory by his opponent, Kousser said. In his book, 'Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction,' Kousser writes that Groover’s opponent 'triumphed by garnering black ballots by a five-to-one margin.'"

Groover ultimately won re-election in 1963 — and immediately pushed the runoff system as a way of diluting Black voting power, which he referred to as the "Negro Voting Block," the report continued. The runoff system "forc[es] voters to choose between the two candidates with the most votes in a separate runoff election. Kousser explains that majority voting may seem innocuous, but if the vote is racially polarized, 'runoffs discriminate against Blacks because they are a minority of the voters.'"

Notably, the report continued, Groover freely admitted in the decades since that his political work was white supremacist, saying in a deposition, “I was a segregationist. I was a county unit man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced, I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was.”

The runoff takes place on Tuesday. It will decide the size of Democrats' majority in the Senate, where they already have the 50 seats they need to control the chamber, and could decide how much power they have to execute their agenda and defend their majority on a Republican-tilted map in 2024.