When moderate Ellis Arnall seemed a cinch to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia two months ago, Republicans crossed party lines and voted overwhelmingly for racist Lester Maddox on the assumption tha the would be the easier candidate to defeat in the general election. Then Maddox faced Republican segregationalist Bo Callaway in the general election three weeks ago, and Arnall got his revenge. Callaway led Maddox, 451,032 to 448,598, but a six per cent write-in vote for Arnall prevented either candidate from gaining a majority of the popular vote. Then the legal entanglements began.
The Georgia constitution provides that the legislature choose the governor when no candidate receives an absolute majority. Georgia's legislature, however, has not been completely reapportioned in compliance with the Supreme Court's one-man, one-vote ruling. The Court gave the legislature until 1968 to reapportion itself, but nevertheless two suits were filed to block a legislative election between Maddox or Callaway, both alluding to the present legislature's unrepresentative character.
After hearing the suits, a three-judge Federal Court declared void the section of the Georgia constitution calling for a legislative election. "Many arguments may be made," said the order, "but we need to go further than to point out that the candidate receiving the lesser number of votes may be elected by the General Assembly [legislature]." The Court suggested no alternative and provided a temporary stay so that the state could appeal the decision.
The decision created an unprecedented situation. The election was following its prescribed course to a conclusive final step in the legislature. By declaring that step unconstitutional, the Court removed the ground-work for the whole election.
The Supreme Court has accepted an appeal to hear the case on Dec. 5 and has barred further lower court proceedings in the meantime. Nobody in Georgia knows what will happen, much less how long it will take the Supreme Court to make up its mind. Because each possible decision favors one candidate or another, the Court risks charges or judicial involvement in party politics by reviewing the case. Maddox wants the legislature to vote, Callaway wants a runoff, and the moderates want a new election.
If the Supreme Court reverses the lower court order, Maddox in all probability would win in the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. The Democrats have signed a loyalty oath to support their party's nominees as a condition for their entrance in Georgia's Democratic primary.
A runoff election which prohibits write-ins would probably result in a Callaway victory. He led Maddox slightly in the general election, and he would attract the majority of Arnall's moderate votes.
Moderates hope that the Supreme Court declares the whole election void and orders the new legislature to set up a special election under a new code. In a new election, a rising young moderate named Jimmy Carter would probably defeat Callaway, Maddox, or Arnall. Such a decision by the Court is unlikely, however.
If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court and excludes a vote in the legislature, it could call for a runoff or a new special election. In either case, the state might be subjected to six more months of legal confusion, whereby Governor Carl Sanders would remain in office after Jan. 10 until his successor was named.
Georgia attorney general Arthur B. Bolton said that in a runoff or special election, voters could insist that write-ins be counted. The write-in campaign would probably be better organized than it was Nov. 8. Then a series of indecisive runoff elections might wind up in a total stalemate. "This may require Georgia to abandon its desirable majority system of election," Bolton declared.
As it now stands, the situation is utterly confused, with new suits being filed regularly, and this makes the moderates happy. They feel that the stalemate demonstrates that neither Maddox nor Callaway represents the will of a majority of people. "It showed the nation that Georgia wasn't ready to swallow either of those segregationists," said a prominent moderate. Arnall is not campaigning or making statements, but he is apparently tickled pink at the predicament caused by his write-in votes.
With the moderates holding the balance of power, the stalemate has checked the racist and conservative tendencies of at least the Republican candidate. The Republican National Committee has sent Ray V. Humphreys, a political education specialist, to work with Georgia Republicans to move the party away from Goldwaterism to the moderate stand that won for Rockefeller in Arkansas. Middle-of-the-roaders have been trying to persuade Callaway to make a strong appeal for the Negroes and moderate whites who wrote in for Arnall in the general election.
When all the court hassles and confusions are over, the new governor will take office with questionable authority and prestige. Sanders, on the other hand, will leave the governorship with his reputation at a personal high. He has come to represent a figure of unity amid the turmoil. A governor in Georgia cannot succeed himself, but Sanders has promised to stay in office until the election is decided.
The Supreme Court decision on the Georgia election could take on a national interest in 1968, when George Wallace might possibly gain enough electoral votes to keep both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates from winning by a majority vote. The Federal Constitution provides for the election of a President in the House of Representatives if no candidate receives a majority -- a process which closely resembles the election method in Georgia.