How Alabama Can Avoid 2 Percent Turnout in Runoff Elections

Posted by Michelle C. Whittaker on April 15, 2016

Alabama held a runoff election on Tuesday, April 12, but very few voters participated. Lawrence County reported that less than 2 percent of the 22,000 voters in the county cast a ballot. The county had a much higher turnout for the primary contest that included presidential candidates. A runoff election is triggered when no candidate receives a majority in the primary -- for Lawrence County voters it meant returning to the polls to vote for Alabama Board of Education, District 7. The challenger, Jim Bonner, finished the primary with 46 percent of the vote, nearly 10 points ahead of incumbent Jeff Newman (38%). However, in the runoff, Newman beat Bonner with 66 percent of the vote.

Runoff elections are costly for counties to run and lead to lower voter turnout. Additionally, runoff elections are expensive for candidates -- especially those with less name recognition or smaller budgets. A better option for Alabama is to use ranked choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting) to ensure that all voters can participate in a high turnout, meaningful election.

The good news for Alabama is they already use ranked choice voting! The state uses ranked ballots for overseas voters to participate in primary elections. Overseas voters are sent two ballots before the election: one to indicate a single choice and one to rank all candidates in order or preference. The single-choice ballot is counted first. In the event of a runoff, the ranked choice ballot is examined, and added to the totals of the top-ranked candidate who advanced to the runoff.

Ranked ballots would give all voters in Alabama a stronger voice in their elections and avoid costly, low-turnout runoff elections.

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