Birth of the County Unit System

The County Unit System in Georgia

Advertisement of Eugene Talmadge in the Emory Wheel. An outspoken segregationist, Talmadge developed a populist and demagogic brand of politics that was particularly successful in rural area. He greatly benefited from the county unit system. Emory Wheel, May 23, 1946.

The county unit system was used in Georgia’s Democratic Party primaries for statewide office and some U.S. House districts. While the Neill Primary Act of 1917 formalized the county unit system, it had been informally used in Georgia in various Democratic primaries since the late 19th century.

The county unit system worked similarly to the electoral college. The eight most populous counties had 6 unit votes each, the next thirty had 4 unit votes each, and the remaining 121 counties had 2 unit votes each.

Since Georgia voters were virtually all Democrats during the first half of the twentieth century, elections were decided at the primary stage rather than in the general election. As a result, the county unit system was in effect the electoral system in Georgia.

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