Voices & Choices

Tuesday’s primaries parade the pitfalls of plurality elections

Tuesday’s primaries parade the pitfalls of plurality elections

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s unexpected victory in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday topped headlines nationwide.

Largely overlooked in the historic victory is that Gillum secured the nomination with less than 35 percent of the vote. Former member of Congress Gwen Graham, the presumed favorite and “establishment” candidate, trailed Gillum by just 3 percentage points, with the remainder split among the other five contenders.

It’s not that the “wrong” person won. It’s just that in a healthy democracy, winners should have the support of a majority of the voters. This protects voters’ values and give candidates reassurance that their results came under the most fair and democratic circumstances.

Democrat Donna Shalala prevailed under similar circumstances in the hotly contested primary for the state’s 27th Congressional District. Shalala won the five-way contest with 31.9 percent of votes, compared to runner-up David Richardson’s 27.5 percent.

In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally handily won the state’s high profile Republican primary for Senate with 53 percent of votes, but the contest for her replacement in the 2nd Congressional District was not so clear cut. Lea Marquez Peterson ultimately took the Republican party nomination with 34 percent of the vote in the four-way race, while Ann Kirkpatrick won the seven-way Democratic primary with 41 percent of the votes.

While Oklahoma’s top-two primary runoff system ensured Tuesday’s victors secured a majority of the votes, our prediction of low voter turnout unhappily proved true, continuing the trend of the last several elections. The Republican governor nomination, arguably among the most high profile of the nearly four dozen races decided in the runoff, drew just over 302,000 voters, versus the 452,600 Republicans who cast ballots in the race in June.

Taken together, Tuesday’s results demonstrate the many pitfalls a plurality voting method allows: non-majority rule, low voter turnout, vote-splitting and, in some cases, nasty campaigning.

We don’t know whether ranked choice voting would have changed the outcomes, but we do know it would have made the process more fair, more inclusive and more civil - all democratic principles we should root for, no matter what party or candidate we pick.

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