Voices & Choices

Low turnout in Georgia's expensive primary runoffs highlight need for RCV

Low turnout in Georgia's expensive primary runoffs highlight need for RCV

On July 26th, a handful of Georgians went to the polls to vote in runoff primary elections to nominate which candidates will represent their parties in the November general elections. Two months ago, one in five eligible voters participated in the May 24 primary election. Even fewer voted in the primary runoff, necessitated when no candidate receives a majority in a party’s primary. Indeed, voter turnout in primary runoff elections is regularly below 10%. According to Lee County Supervisor of Elections Veronica Johnson, the only people who vote in runoff elections are “the strong, deep rooted supporters of each candidate….[who] have a really tight connection to that candidate and want to see them win.”  These voters are not representative of the electorate -- they tend to be more partisan and ideological.

Not only do runoff elections mean little to the average voter, they are also incredibly expensive, and the taxpaying public takes the hit. For instance, an April 2016 runoff election in Alabama to nominate a single candidate for the State Board of Education cost taxpayers upwards of $500,000. In 2009, a combined $15 million in taxpayer dollars was spent on two runoff elections in New York City, for city comptroller and for public advocate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By using ranked choice voting, in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference, we can eliminate the need for costly, unexciting runoffs since the runoff process is already built into the ballot-counting process. Additionally, because turnout is higher in the primary, we can ensure the voices of more people are heard when choosing the party nominee.

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