The Purpose of Runoff Elections

Take a look at these two sets of election results.  The first is from the Republican Party primary for Illinois Governor in 2010.  The second is from the Republican Party primary for South Carolina’s open Congressional District 1 seat that was held on Tuesday, March 19.

2010 Gubernatorial Primary — Illinois (Republican Party)

Bill Brady 20.26%
Kirk Dillard 20.24%
Andy McKenna 19.29%
Jim Ryan 17.04%
Adam Andrzejewski 14.47%
Dan Proft 7.73%
Bob Schillerstrom 0.97%

Brady became the party’s nominee with less than 21% of the vote.  His total vote difference over Dillard was a slim 197 votes.  In Illinois, a plurality of votes is sufficient enough for a candidate to become a party’s nominee.  Another way to look at the above result is that almost 80% of the Republican primary vote went to a candidate other than Brady.

2013 Congressional District 1 Primary– South Carolina (Republican Party)

Mark Sanford 36.9%
Curtis Bostic 13.3%
Larry Grooms 12.4%
Teddy Turner 7.9%
Andy Patrick 7.0%
John Kuhn 6.5%
Chip Limehouse 6.1%
Ray Nash 4.7%
Peter McCoy 1.6%
Elizabeth Moffly 1.0%
Tim Larkin 0.7%
Jonathan Hoffman 0.7%
Jeff King 0.4%
Keith Blandford 0.4%
Shawn Pinkston 0.3%
Ric Bryant 0.2%

Since no candidate received 50% of the vote in the South Carolina Republican primary, a runoff election will be held between the Sanford and Bostic on April 2.  In states where there are runoff elections, a candidate must get a majority of the vote in order to avoid a second or runoff election.  A runoff will ensure that a candidate will become a party’s nominee with a majority of the vote.  Runoff elections, as I mentioned, will give the voter a choice between two candidates.   There are, however, arguments against runoff elections.

Criticisms involving a runoff election include:

a.  Cost:  Having a primary and a general election are costly enough.  Adding an extra election in between will also come with a price.

b.  Turnout:  Voter turnout in the South Carolina Special Election Primary on March 19 was 70,399 out of 453,632 registered voters (15.5%).  Turnout was a little higher than expected.  That being said, turnout for the runoff election will be lower on April 2.  Too often, runoff election results are determined by the party faithful who turn out to vote consistently in elections.  The faithful, though, only make up a small portion of the actual number of registered voters in that party.

c.  First and Second Switch:  Low voter turnout could benefit the second place contestant.  There are no guarantees that the results from the first round will remain the same in the second go around.  Such was the case with Virginia Foxx in 2004.  She finished second in a Republican primary for Congress in North Carolina.  The winner of the first round of voting, Vernon Robinson, finished with 24% of the vote, way below the runoff threshold.  Foxx overtook Robinson in the runoff 55-45%.

What is your take on runoff elections?  Do you support them? Should there only be one primary election, as is the case in Illinois, where first place only needs a plurality to become the nominee?

10 responses to “The Purpose of Runoff Elections

  1. I find it funny that with all the time and expense given to achieve 50% plus 1 in a runoff, given the fact that only 15% of people vote in primaries, that 50% actually translates into 7% of the eligible voters (hardly a plurality).

  2. Runoff elections shouldn’t be allowed. To me they seem a bit unfair. If in the first primary election a nominee wins the most votes, why go for another round? Voter turnout is obviously going to be lower because all the voters who wanted to vote already showed up for the first election and made it obvious as to who they want to win. When the first and second place nominees switch, he/she won simply due to low voter turnout not because he/she was the intended canidate all along. First place winners shouldn’t get that taken away from them all together.

  3. I don’t agree with runoff elections. Plurality is enough to indicate a candidate, regardless of what the percentage is. Also, if two people are put into the runoff election, the two that received the highest percentage of votes, that leaves two choices for many people to vote for of whom they probably don’t agree with and didn’t agree with to begin with. More people will be voting for the sake of voting versus those truly voting for who they agree with. One race is enough, I mean you win the first race to begin with for a reason right?

  4. As close as it was in Illinois, the candidate that won the primary, won the primary. There should not be another election to determine who would win it by a larger margin. Whether it is by 1% or 20% that candidate won. I think with South Carolina’s primary, it was obvious who won the primary, but when a state has runoff elections, it pretty much makes that person’s win, not count as a win. It costs way too much money to hold another election. Also, voter turnout for the second election would be drastically reduced. If 50% of the voters did not vote for either of the 2 candidates that have to have a runoff election, there is a greater chance that those voters won’t turn out or if they do, they might vote for a candidate whose ideologies are something that they don’t agree with.

  5. I believe there should be only one election because first of all, i dont believe our state could afford it, and because if u win and election u win it no matter if its by 1 percent or 95 percent. i think illinois is actually doing something right by doing it this way.

  6. I believe that one election should suffice and pluralities are unnecessary and unfair. If a candidate collects the most votes, he should be considered the winner because despite not receiving the majority of votes he still had received more than any other candidate. A runoff election would be an unnecessary expense for the state and it will result in a poor turnout.

  7. I disagree with the run off election because it is a waste of time and money. another reason why i disagree with the run off election is the person one fair and square and does not need another election. if the candidate won he/she won and thats it

  8. I think runoff election is totally unnecessary in small state but it should practice in populated state like California. The reasons are the following if the primary is a close vote between two candidate then the it is really hard to pick which to vote for but with the runoff elections it can be solve. So it is essential to have a primary election in big states. In small like Rhode Island the expense will be totally unnecessary and the budget should be use in something else instead of election.

  9. Cristina Calderon

    This is a tough one. On the one hand I support the runoff elections because in cases like the 2013 Congressional District 1 Primary– South Carolina (Republican Party) where there are 16 candidates, a candidate doesn’t need to campaign as the best he can merely depend on that his closest competitors lose votes to the more obscure candidates.
    On the other hand, I do not support runoff elections because we already know that voter turnout in the second round is extremely low which is not as good a representation of the voters as in the first round.
    Only approximately 15% of the registered voters voted in the second round. Since not all registered voters vote in every election, if we consider the number of voters from the first round as 100% then I’m sure the amount of people who show up to the second round is a negligible percentage. These few are choosing the nominee. That’s scary.

  10. With runoff elections, the taxpayers dollar is going to an event where most people do not participate. Since there is such low turnout, runoff elections should not take place anymore. There should be one primary election and then the general election. With the primary election, the candidate with the most votes should be the person who runs in the general election. Runoff elections are a waste of time and money.

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