After months, and sometimes years, on the campaign trail, candidates reach an emotional finish line on election night. Some host festivities with their supporters at campaign headquarters, while others await the returns quietly with family and friends. They hope for victory and fear defeat, but are sometimes granted neither.
In 1946 Georgians elected Eugene Talmadge to succeed progressive up-and-comer Ellis Arnall as governor. Talmadge was in poor health, though, and his inner circle feared he might not live to be sworn into office. Capitalizing on a loophole in the state constitution empowering the General Assembly to appoint a new governor from runner-up candidates in the event of the governor-elect’s death, the Talmadge machine quietly ran Eugene’s son Herman as a write-in candidate in the general election. With no Republican on the ballot, and a fortuitous discovery of additional write-in votes from his home county, the younger Talmadge placed second with just 675 votes. Eugene Talmadge died on December 21, 1946.
Legislators prepared to replace the governor-elect with his son just as another claimant stepped forward: M. E. Thompson, the newly elected lieutenant governor. Thompson felt he should assume the governorship, but as lieutenant governor was a new state office, the constitution made no such provision. The General Assembly voted to elect Herman Talmadge, and Thompson filed suit. Meanwhile, Ellis Arnall refused to leave office until a successor was legitimized. After two months of tumult, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of M. E. Thompson. Herman Talmadge exacted political retribution when he defeated Thompson in a hotly contested special election held in 1948 to fill the remaining two years of the term.
Georgia politicians and voters were again left hanging after Election Day in 1966. U.S. Representative Howard “Bo” Callaway made history as the first Republican to place first in a Georgia gubernatorial race in nearly a century, gaining 46.5 percent of the vote. Democrats split their votes between Lester Maddox, a staunch segregationist, and Ellis Arnall, a write-in candidate. Because no candidate received more than fifty percent of the vote, it was up to the Georgia Assembly to vote on Georgia’s next governor. Most of the legislators were Democrats, and most had signed a loyalty oath to support the Democratic candidate. Even though many of the legislators saw Maddox as an extremist, they were bound to vote for him. Maddox won the house vote and, with it, his first election.