Voices & Choices

Alabama primary runoffs have hefty price tag, low turnout

Alabama primary runoffs have hefty price tag, low turnout

On Tuesday, Alabama Republicans went to the polls in a primary runoff to determine their nominee for U.S. Senator, after no candidate received a majority in the initial March primary.

New York Times graphic presenting the results of Alabama’s March Senate primary.

Primary runoffs are meant to ensure that a candidate who earns broad support from their party wins the nomination, but there’s a catch. Primary runoffs can cost millions of dollars to administer and usually have lower turnout than the initial primary.

Alabama’s Secretary of State once said that any statewide election costs taxpayers about $3 million regardless of turnout. The high election cost is no surprise considering New York City once spent $15 million on a set of Democratic primary runoffs that had just 8 percent turnout.

Smaller, more local runoffs can be expensive, too. A runoff in southern Alabama for a seat on the State Board of Education cost half a million dollars in 2016.

Moreover, primary runoffs fail to achieve their stated purpose of picking winners with broad support. A FairVote analysis found that federal primary runoffs see turnout decline by a mean of 37.4% compared with the initial primary.

If lawmakers want to save money and keep voters engaged, they should conduct primaries with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) instead. RCV simulates the runoff experience on a single election day by letting voters rank the candidates, eliminating the candidates who come in last, and re-allocating the votes they receive to candidates who are still in the race.

Join Us Today to Help Create a More Perfect Union