Vote-Splitting and Runoff Election Loom for Louisiana Senate Race

Posted by Austin Plier on November 08, 2016

As the race for control of the U.S. Senate unfolds on election night, most eyes will be trained on the handful of particularly competitive Senate races in places like Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. However the dynamics that are likely to unfold in Louisiana--a state that has been solidly in the “red” column for several election cycles now--are promising to be particularly intriguing.

Louisiana is unique in that there are no primary elections before Election Day in November. Instead, candidates of all parties run on the same ballot on Election Day, including more than one candidate from the same political party. If no candidate wins a majority (50% +1) of the vote, the state holds a runoff election a few weeks later in December between the top two vote getters. Since Louisiana voters are filling an open seat for U.S. Senate, the field of candidates has been particularly crowded. At the outset of the race, some 23 candidates decided to run: eight Democrats, eight Republicans, and seven independent or third party candidates. While the race has narrowed down to about 6 competitive candidates, voters still will have quite the variety of choices on election day.

No doubt, a variety of choices on the ballot in November is a good thing--democracy is better with more voices participating in civil discourse. However, with so many competitive candidates running, we’re almost certain to see severe vote-splitting, with no candidate winning even close to a majority of the votes. Right now, FiveThirtyEight’s Election Forecast shows five candidates polling above 10%, with Republican John Kennedy leading the field at 24%. Democratic candidates Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard are close behind, polling at 18% each, and Republicans John Flemming, John Boustany, and Rob Maness are all jockeying for votes to surpass them and find a way into the December runoff.

Louisiana voters have voted for the Republican presidential candidate in the last four presidential elections and would very likely elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate, should one candidate from each of the major parties advance to the runoff election in December. However, with the severe vote-splitting expected in this crowded election it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Republican voters to split their votes among the many choices, and allow the two Democratic candidates to advance to the runoff.

Such a development would shake up the battle for control of the Senate, and likely leave a majority of Louisiana voters feeling frustrated in December, forced to choose between two Democratic candidates. That sort of vote splitting has occurred before. For example in 2012, California’s congressional district 31 advanced two Republican candidates in a majority-Democratic district under the state’s “top two” system. Both the Louisiana system and top two could help avoid these aberrant results by incorporating ranked choice voting into their elections.

Stay tuned for analysis of the dynamics of this race and others on election night at the FairVote blog.

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