The 2018 midterm cycle officially began Tuesday with Texas holding the first primaries in the country. On the ballot were races for the Governor, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Land Commissioner, Agriculture Commissioner, Ted Cruz’s Senate seat, all 36 U.S. House seats, 15 state senate seats, and 150 state house seats. There will be 16 Congressional primary runoffs on May 22, but unfortunately, not all deserving candidates will get to participate.
What a lot of media will miss among the many storylines from these primaries -- stories like a Bush family member winning his primary, and the state’s likelihood of electing its first two Latina Congresswomen -- is that the party primaries should be a story by themselves. Because Texas uses a party primary system, there were 72 separate elections to fill the 36 U.S. House seats, one for each party for every seat. Across all of these races, 223 candidates appeared on the ballot, and 16 elections will go to runoffs in May. With so many candidates, it is unsurprising to have so many runoffs, but this style runoff is fundamentally unfair to voters and candidates and could be avoided by the use of ranked choice voting.
In District 21, 18 separate Republican candidates ran, making it virtually impossible for the race to avoid a runoff. In that particular race, the third place candidate (who won’t go to a runoff) received 15.5 percent of the vote, while the second place candidate (who will go to the runoff) received 16.9 percent. Exactly 1,000 votes separated the two. In an even worse case, in District 2 -- an open seat -- 0.3 percent of the vote (or exactly 145 votes) separated the second and third candidates in the Republican primary. The next highest vote getter had only 7.2 percent of the vote. This race will go to a runoff that only includes two of three candidates who each received about a third of the vote. But if Texas used ranked choice voting, it wouldn’t have had to.
With ranked choice voting, Texas could have held all of the exact same races on Tuesday, and would now have ballots already set for November. Voters could have ranked their preferences and instant runoffs would have provided winners who received a majority of support from the voters. Now, instead the state, parties and voters will have to ride out the next 10 weeks of fundraising, mailers, and campaign advertising before May runoffs, where turnout will likely be lower and winners will receive less total votes than they would have with ranked choice voting.