Reports

Federal Primary Election Runoffs and Voter Turnout Decline

Posted on October 18, 2019

Primary runoff elections are held after an initial election when no candidate surpasses a predetermined vote threshold (typically 50%, although lower in some states). In a runoff, the top two vote recipients from the initial round compete, and the candidate who receives the most votes in the runoff becomes the party’s nominee.

Runoffs increase the likelihood that a party’s nominee is representative of the party’s primary voters. They also give voters in the first round an enhanced ability to express their preferences without “wasting” their votes on a candidate whom they prefer, but who has little chance of winning. In a runoff system, voters can vote for the candidate they most strongly support in the first election. If that candidate advances to the runoff, the voters can back them again. If that candidate does not advance to the runoff, voters can then express their preference for whichever of the top two candidates they prefer.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of runoff elections is the decrease in voter turnout for the runoff stage of the primary. Decreased turnout dilutes the main benefit of a runoff: improving representation by allowing voters in primaries to select a candidate with broad popular support. In the United States, primary runoff turnout rates often plunge so low that the democratic legitimacy of the elections is cast into doubt.

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RCV vs Other Voting Systems – By the Numbers

Posted on March 24, 2015

With over 100 elections conducted using RCV in the U.S. since 2000, there is much data RCV and its relationship to voter turnout, ballot spoilage, voter behavior and strategy and numerous other aspects of RCV elections. To explore these data, visit our "RCV Statistics" page. 

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Majority and Plurality in U.S. Gubernatorial Elections

Posted on April 09, 2010

From 1948 to 2009, 90.4 percent of all gubernatorial general elections nationwide were won with greater than 50 percent of the popular vote. None were won with less than 35 percent of all votes cast. Fifteen states elected all of their governors with a majority of votes cast. Among the other states, Maine had the most plurality-elected governors, with 7 of their 19 races in this span.

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Get 'Em (Ready to Vote) While They're Young

Posted on August 13, 2009

A movement is growing within the states to swing the doors of our democracy wide open, encouraging and facilitating the active participation of young people in the electoral process.

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Universal Voter Registration: An International Perspective

Posted on June 28, 2009

The United States is one of the few democracies in the world where the government does not take any responsibility in registering its citizens. This one-of-a-kind, self-initiated voter registration process acts as a major barrier to voter turnout and leads to often inaccurate voter rolls.

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