RCV to the rescue: non-majority winners in gubernatorial races

Posted by Austin Plier on November 05, 2014
In Tuesday’s midterm elections, 36 states held gubernatorial elections. Of those races for governor, at least eight resulted in non-majority winners--meaning that no candidate received support from more than 50% of voters. This scenario played out in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. That means that in almost 1 in 4 states that elected a governor yesterday, a majority of voters will be governed for the next four years by a candidate they did not vote for.

Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo (D) won the governorship with a startlingly low 40.2% of the vote, while third-place finisher and Moderate candidate Bob Healy garnered 22% of support; her predecessor won the 2010 race for governor with an even lower share of the vote. Maine re-elected incumbent Paul LePage with only 48.3% of the vote, while challengers Mike Michaud (D) and Eliot Cutler (I) split the remainder of the vote with 43.3% and 8.3% respectively. Of Maine's last 11 elections for governor, nine were won with less than 50%.

Florida, one of the most hotly contested gubernatorial races of the year, saw incumbent Rick Scott (R) win narrowly (1.2 percentage points) with 48.2% of the vote. Had that race tightened ever so slightly, the 3.8% of votes garnered by Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie would have loomed even larger.

Speaking of Libertarians, a key U.S. Senate race deserves honorary inclusion in this review: Virginia's incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D) has survived a challenge from Republican Ed Gillespie, with Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis garnering far more votes than the margin, just as he did in the 2013 election for governor in Virginia.

In each of these states, minor party and independent candidates garnered support from voters in already relatively closely contested elections, resulting in a non-majority winner for governor. In each case, ranked choice voting (RCV) would have avoided such a result, and allowed for a consensus winner. Mainers, who have now experienced this phenomenon in back-to-back gubernatorial elections, collected signatures on Election Day to move forward with implementing RCV in all state and federal races. Other states would do well to follow suit, and give themselves an opportunity to vote their conscience on Election Day, without fear of electing leaders that do not have a majority of the electorate’s support.
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